10 Greatest National Teams in World Football History

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2013

10 Greatest National Teams in World Football History

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    It's international week, and with the World Cup around the corner it's time to cast our gaze away from league combat and instead look at the national game.

    With 21 of the 32 teams who'll be in Brazil next year already assured of their place at the World Cup finals, the next potential global superpower could well be amongst them, just waiting to dominate the world game.

    But what about those who have gone before?

    Which international teams are the greatest of all time?

    Here we present a list the 10 best:

10. Argentina 1986-1990

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    With a truly special talent such as Diego Maradona in your side, you are always going to have a chance to win a World Cup.

    English minds might be cast towards Maradona's infamous "Hand of God" goal in the quarter-final of the tournament in Mexico in 1986, but the little magician inspired much more than just that.

    His side beat West Germany 3-2 in the final in Mexico City that year, only to lose 1-0 to the same opponents in Rome four years later.

9. France 1982-1986

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    Another world star inspired his team between 1982 and 1986, when France's Michel Platini ruled over his side.

    A semi-final appearance at the World Cup in 1982 showcased the promise of the French, but two years later Platini dominated Europe with an astonishing nine goals in five games as France clinched the European Championship as hosts in 1984.

    The above video shows their 3-2 win over Portugal in the semi-finals, a classic contest that featured Platini grabbing a winner in the final minute of extra-time.

    With Platini against the heartbeat, Les Bleus reached the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup.

8. Hungary 1950-1956

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    In Hungary, they were called The Golden Team, but everywhere else this vintage side were called the Magical Magyars.

    Inspired by stars such as Ferenc Puskas, the Hungarians stunned the football world with a 6-3 win over England at Wembley in 1953, before a 7-1 victory over the same opponents in Budapest a year later.

    They were fancied by many to win the World Cup in 1954, and after earning hard-fought victories over Brazil in the quarter-final and reigning champions Uruguay in the semis, they went 2-0 up in the final against West Germany in Bern, only to collapse and see their opponents win 3-2.

    It was Hungary's only defeat in 50 matches between 1950 and 1956, when the team was broken up due to the Hungarian Revolution.

7. Netherlands 1974-1978

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    Successive World Cup final defeats could mark this team out at failures, but instead the focus should be on the quality of their play.

    Inspired by the great John Cruyff, whose infamous turn has been attempted to be replicated by thousands of children on thousands of playgrounds, the Dutch shone in their distinctive orange shirts, playing the kind of attacking, exciting football that leads many to fall in love with the game.

    Unfortunately, they couldn't back up their style with the substance of trophies, losing in the finals of both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, as well as finishing third in Euro ’76.

6. West Germany 1970-1976

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    West Germany never failed to reach a semi-final in the four major tournaments between 1970 and 1976, winning both the European Championship in 1972 and then their own World Cup two years later.

    The chief influence behind all of this success was, of course, Franz Beckenbauer, the stylish sweeper who seemed to be a master of all that he surveyed in front of him as his team virtually swept the board, whilst Gerd Muller always seemed to be on hand to plunder the goals that his team needed.

    When they were at their best, this German team functioned like a well-oiled machine, and this is still widely regarded by many as the greatest period in the country's footballing history.

5. France 1998-2000

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    Everything came to a head in glorious fashion for the French in 1998, when their rapidly evolving team found themselves in a World Cup in their country, and with a great chance of winning it.

    The likes of Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps, a young Thierry Henry and, crucially, Zinedine Zidane formed a team which said a lot about the changing makeup of society in France at the time and the nation united behind them.

    Zidane scored twice in the 1998 World Cup final in Paris as Brazil were beaten 3-0, whilst he was arguably even better at Euro 2000 in the Netherlands and Belgium, where France beat Italy 2-1 in the Rotterdam final thanks to a golden goal from David Trezeguet.

4. Italy 1934-38

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    A perceived link with National Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini might have poisoned the legacy of this team somewhat, but having won the first two World Cups they entered in 1934 and 1938, there was little doubt of the quality of their players.

    Under the guidance of revolutionary tactician Vittorio Pozzo, still the only coach to have won two World Cups, Italy shone with players such as Giuseppe Meazza, the man whose name is now given to the famous San Siro stadium in Milan.

    Italy beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in extra-time to win the 1934 World Cup in their own country, before following that up by beating Hungary 4-2 in the final in Paris four years later.  

3. Brazil 1958-1962

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    Winning back-to-back World Cups is a remarkable achievement, and one that you need a world great to stimulate.

    Fortunately for Brazil they had two, the first being Pele, who shone as a 17-year-old in the 1958 tournament in Sweden, scoring twice as the hosts were beaten 5-2 in the final.

    Four years later in Chile, injury forced Pele to miss the showpiece occasion against Czechoslovakia in Santiago, but no matter.

    With a stellar performance from the player of the tournament Garrincha, Brazil won 3-1 cement their place at the top of the world game.

2. Spain 2008-2012

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    For so long world football's great underachievers, something started stirring in Spain in the mid-2000s, and it came to fruition in glorious fashion.

    Displaying a possession-based brand of football that would come to be known as "tiki-taka", the Spanish were experts in controlling a game, ensuring that their opponents barely had the ball and were unable to hurt them.

    Continent and world domination started when Fernando Torres scored the winner in Vienna as Germany were beaten 1-0 in the Euro 2008 final, before the World Cup was secured two years later thanks to Andres Iniesta's late winner (pictured) in extra-time against the Dutch in Johannesburg.

    Although considered by some to not be at their best, a third successive major title followed when Italy were overwhelmed in the Euro 2012 final last summer, and there will be plenty backing the Spanish to prolong their period of dominance in Brazil next year.

1. Brazil 1970

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    Some things in life, and football, just have to be accepted, and this is one of them.

    Other teams have had periods of success which lasted longer, but none dominated a tournament in the manner that Brazil did the 1970 World Cup.

    Their triumphs in 1958 and 1962 were in somewhat of a black-and-white age, but here the Brazilians were entertaining the world in glorious technicolor.

    Figures such as Pele, already established as the best player in the world, and Jairzinho, who scored in every single match at the tournament, shimmered in their golden shirts, with their best moment saved until last.

    Carlos Alberto's goal in their 4-1 final victory over Italy set the blueprint for everything we know about Brazilian football.

    It was an historical moment, never mind a sporting one.