Who are the world's best central defenders?
It's a difficult question to answer. As the game has changed, so has the criteria by which defenders are judged. Twenty years ago, a good central defender might have been someone who hoofed the ball clear any time it fell within 10 feet of the penalty area and whose elbows were as vital to his game as his feet.
Nowadays, top defenders are expected to be able to pass and control the ball as well as midfielders. Being able to move the ball fluently from defence to attack is vital to the success of any team competing for the highest honours, and aimless punts up the field simply won't do any more. Timely interceptions, as much as last-ditch tackles, are seen as a mark of a world-class defender, while a smattering of goals is also expected from players who should be dominant in the air.
The following list tries to rank the world's best central defenders as of early 2012. In particular, it looks at those players who have recently contributed to their club or national team's success rather than just old stalwarts of the game. As such, there are a few players on this list who might come as a surprise.