Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and the 6 Best Argentine Footballers of All Time

Dan ColasimoneContributor IJuly 25, 2013

Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and the 6 Best Argentine Footballers of All Time

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    Like only a small handful of other football strips, the sky blue and white stripes of the Argentina shirt carry an unmistakable aura.

    As with the noble azure of Italy or the flamboyant yellow of Brazil, the Albiceleste colors invoke a particular sentiment.

    Argentinians exude a blend of elegance and grit, a sense of rough-edged panache that produces both beauty and unpredictability on the football pitch.

    This reputation is born of more than a century of powerful Argentine national sides who have won honors at South American and international level, a strong domestic league that is passionately supported and intensely contested and also from the long line of wonderful footballers to emerge from the country who embody precisely these characteristics.

    Argentina's place in the footballing pantheon comes courtesy of a cluster of talismanic players who lit up the footballing world from the Americas to Europe at both club and international level.

    Here we count down the greatest half-dozen of them all.  

     

     

6. Omar Sivori

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    A product of the prestigious River Plate academy, Omar Sivori most famously played 215 times for Juventus, scoring 135 goals for the Italian club.

    He won 18 caps for Argentina and scored nine times, helping the Seleccion to the 1957 Copa America (where he was named player of the tournament), but switched allegiances to play for Italy at the 1962 World Cup. 

    A genius with the ball at his feet, Sivori was traipsing past gormless defenders with his socks around his ankles before Diego was even a glimmer in his mother Dalma's eye.

    The fact he was also a deadly left-footed finisher meant he ended his career one of the true legends of Serie A.

    Among his major achievements were two Argentine titles with River Plate, three Scudetti with Juventus, the capocannoniere crown in 1959 and the Ballon d'Or in 1961.

     

     

5. Gabriel Batistuta

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    A Gatling gun of a striker, point Gabriel Omar Batistuta in the direction of goal and you could generally expect him to do some serious damage.

    He is the finest pure No. 9 Argentina has produced, so it is fitting that he holds the record for most goals scored in Albiceleste colors, with 56.

    He turned out for Newell's Old Boys, River Plate and Boca Juniors in his home country before spending the majority of his career with Fiorentina, where he is also the all-time top scorer.

    A shorter stint with Roma netted him a Scudetto in 2000/01.

    A crisp striker of the ball, "Batigol" had guile, pace, power and an unquenchable thirst for goals.

     

     

4. Daniel Passarella

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    Of the many fearsome defenders Argentina has produced over the years, Daniel Passarella is the creme de la creme. 

    Famous for his inspirational leadership and forceful character, the "Kaiser" was an aggressive tackler and consistent goal scorer from free kicks, penalties and headers.

    He netted an astonishing 99 times in 298 games for River Plate, and 22 times in 70 games for Argentina.

    Passarella won nine Argentine league titles with River and the Italian league with Fiorentina. He was also the first Argentinian to lift the World Cup, captaining the side to victory on home soil in 1978.

     

3. Alfredo Di Stefano

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    An argument could be made for the majestic Alfredo Di Stefano to top the list of greatest Argentine footballers, though the fact he played more often for Spain than for his native country, and also turned out for Colombia, makes it slightly easier to drop him down a rung or two.

    The "Saetta Rubia" won an incredible 13 league titles with three clubs as well as the 1947 Copa America with Argentina.

    He was a driving force in three of the most celebrated sides of the age; River Plate's great team of the 1940s, Millionarios' magnificent "Ballet Azul" side and the Real Madrid side that won the first five editions of the European Cup.

    Wherever Di Stefano played, it rained goals. He scored in all five of those successful European Cup finals and was top scorer in Argentina once, Colombia twice and Spain five times.

    To cap his sensational list of personal achievements, Di Stefano also won the Ballon d'Or twice, in 1957 and 1959.

     

2. Diego Maradona

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    His talent was so awesome that it could bring people to tears, especially in his native Argentina or his second home of Naples.

    Diego Armando Maradona earned himself immortal status in Argentina by carrying the Albicelestes almost single-handedly to World Cup glory in 1986 and nearly repeating the feat four years later.

    He forever won the hearts of Neapolitans by leading Napoli to two Seria A titles during his seven-year love affair with the club, and he is regarded as a legend at Boca Juniors even though his two stints there came at the early and late stages of his career and were relatively brief.

    "El Diego" was a barrel-chested midget from the Buenos Aires ghetto whose dribbling skills, shooting ability and creative vision nearly defied belief.

    For many, he was the greatest footballer of them all, and he will forever remain so.

     

1. Lionel Messi

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    Following Maradona's retirement, Argentina, and the world for that matter, searched in vain for someone else to fill the void.

    Every "new Maradona," though, no matter how good he turned out to be, was no match for the original version.

    Just when it seemed we would never see anything like Diego again, along came something a little bit different, but just as amazing.

    Lionel Messi is so far ahead of his contemporaries that instead of debating his status in the modern game, the discussion has turned to his place in history.

    His quicksilver dribbling and incredible ability to jink past defenders is matched by precise, cool finishing.

    That lethal combination makes him not just a joy to watch, but a priceless asset on the pitch for Barcelona and Argentina.

    His passing and vision is the best in world football, yet we probably won't see those traits at their most glorious until he starts to slow down later in his career.

    The argument used most frequently against claims that Messi is the greatest of all time is that he has not won a World Cup. 

    He will likely have at least two more chances to address that fact in his career, but even if he fails to do so, the point is moot. "La Pulga" has proved himself time and time again in La Liga and, importantly, the Champions League, which is now the pinnacle of football in terms of quality if not prestige.

    He has also been by far the best player in the Argentine national side for quite some time and, since Alejandro Sabella has taken over as coach, has even managed to match his awe-inspiring club form in national colors.

    Messi edges Maradona as Argentina's greatest due to his uncanny ability to not just do wondrous things on a football pitch, but to do them all the time.

    The last word goes to esteemed Argentine journalist Juan Pablo Varsky, who having watched both men up close, explains why he favors Messi.

    "On the field, for me Messi is Maradona every single day," says Varsky.

    "I saw Maradona play extraordinary matches, saw videos, I followed his career live in the stadiums... for me Messi is the best of Maradona, every single day."