Ranking the 20 Best Teams in the History of the World Cup

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2014

Ranking the 20 Best Teams in the History of the World Cup

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    Associated Press

    The World Cup is the place where a team can become immortal.

    Good teams shine in any old arena; great teams are made on the World Cup's stage. If you perform at the game's global summit, immortality awaits.

    The most obvious way to achieve long-lasting renown is by winning the tournament. However, as this list demonstrates, it's also possible to be remembered without lifting the ultimate prize.

    Go to the next slide to begin the countdown of the 20 greatest teams in the history of the World Cup.

20. France 1986

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    Rudi Blaha/Associated Press

    The France team of the 1986 World Cup did not leave as winners, but they did make an enormous impact upon the tournament.

    Inspired by the all-action midfield displays of Michel Platini, the European Champions made the semi-finals before being eliminated by a West German side reaching their second final in succession.

    This French team arguably underachieved in 1986, given their remarkable collection of talent.

19. England 1966

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    STR/Associated Press

    England may have had the advantage of being on home soil, but their World Cup-winning side were still a force to be reckoned with. The likes of Bobby Charlton gave them real attacking force, and their extra-time victory over West Germany made the 1966 final one of the most dramatic in World Cup history.

18. West Germany 1954

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Hungary and West Germany had played each other just three weeks before they met in the 1954 World Cup final. On that occasion, the Hungarians emerged as 8-3 victors. However, come the final, the Germans got the job done.

    The Hungarians had a superb attack, but the Germans had the tactical nous to exploit their defensive weakness. This team achieved greatness by learning from their heavy defeat and adapting accordingly for the final.

17. Argentina 1986

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    Associated Press

    This side are often wrongfully regarded as a "one-man team." Although Diego Maradona was doubtless instrumental to their World Cup success, he was surrounded by a side who played with aggression, intelligence and no lack of skill.

16. Uruguay 1950

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    The Brazilian newspapers declared their national team as "world champions" on the eve of the 1950 final. They had a shock coming: Uruguay pulled off an unexpected 2-1 win at the Maracana to send shock waves through world football.

    However, it shouldn't have been such an enormous surprise. In the likes of Alcides Ghiggia and Juan Schiaffino, Uruguay had access to some superb talent. This team deserves more credit than merely being seen as plucky underdogs.

15. Italy 1982

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    Associated Press

    Surrounded by scandal, this Italy team emerged from disarray to win the World Cup.

    They didn't even win any of their group games, playing out three draws, before they exploded in the latter stages. They beat both Argentina and Brazil on the way to victory, with Golden Boot winner Paolo Rossi grabbing a hat-trick against the latter. Not bad for slow starters.

14. Uruguay 1930

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    The Uruguay team of 1930 demolished the opposition, scoring 15 goals in the tournament and conceding just three. In the final, they overcame neighbours and rivals Argentina to become the inaugural World Cup winners.

13. France 1998

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    Michel Lipchitz/Associated Press

    In 1998, hosts France won the tournament without losing a single game. What's more, they conceded just two goals in the entire competition.

    In the final, they thrashed Brazil 3-0. Their victory was absolutely emphatic.

12. West Germany 1990

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    ROBERTO PFEIL/Associated Press

    This German team went three years with just one competitive defeat. Having reached the semi-finals in Euro 1988, they progressed to win the World Cup in 1990.

    Franz Beckenbauer, who dominated the World Cup as a player, was the manager who led a team including the likes of Rudi Voeller and Jurgen Klinsmann to victory.

11. Italy 1938

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Legendary tactician Vittorio Pozzo became the first and, so far, only coach to win two World Cups, reprising his 1934 success with Italy to beat Hungary 4-2 in the 1938 final.

    The team's star player was Giuseppe Meazza, whose name now lends itself to Milan's iconic San Siro stadium.

10. Netherlands 1974

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    The Dutch have a nasty habit of producing great sides that fail to crown their success with a trophy. That was particularly true in the 1970s.

    In 1974, the Dutch reached the final with their compelling brand of "total football" but came up short against rivals West Germany. Nevertheless, their attractive style of play is still celebrated to this day.

9. Brazil 2002

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    DAVID GUTTENFELDER/Associated Press

    This side are the only Brazilian team to have won seven games in a World Cup tournament. They cruised to the title, outscoring their opponents by 18 goals to four.

    They could defend as well as attack: They conceded just one goal in the knockout stages. With Ronaldo scoring eight times, they were both an irresistible force and an immovable object.

8. Netherlands 1978

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    CARLO FUMAGALLI/Associated Press

    One of the greatest teams in the history of this competition is also one responsible for losing successive finals.

    After defeat against West Germany in 1974, the Dutch were heartbroken to fall at the last hurdle once again in 1978. This time, it was the Argentines who saw them off.

    In hindsight, Netherlands' failure to claim the World Cup during the 1970s is a sporting injustice.

7. Hungary 1954

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    BELA SZANDELSZKY/Associated Press

    Led by the legendary Ferenc Puskas, this team were known across the globe as "The Magical Magyars."

    Despite an incredible set of performances in the tournament, beating Brazil and Uruguay along the way, the Hungarians suffered a shock defeat to West Germany in the 1954 final.

    It was their only defeat in 50 international matches between 1950 and 1956.

6. Brazil 1982

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    Associated Press

    The Brazil team of 1982 are often labelled the greatest international side to have failed to win the World Cup.

    This was an archetypal Brazilian side, full of skill and providing magical moments aplenty. The likes of Zico, Socrates and Eder made them worth successors to the iconic team of 1970. Their exit against Italy was a huge shock, but it does little to rob them of their undisputed brilliance.

5. Brazil 1962

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    Associated Press

    Any team that wins two successive World Cups must contain some pretty remarkable elements. That Brazil managed it without their best player, the injured striker Pele, tells you just how special they were.

    Concerns over Pele's absence from the latter stages was assuaged by the sheer brilliance of Garrincha, who starred in the final as Brazil cemented their position as the world's greatest team.

4. Brazil 1958

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    Associated Press

    Brazil beat hosts Sweden 5-2 to lift the 1958 World Cup. During that game, Pele simultaneously became the youngest player to play a World Cup final, the youngest scorer in a World Cup final and the youngest player to win a World Cup winner's medal.

    It wasn't just the teenage Pele who made this team great. This XI were all heroes, and they are revered as legends for bringing Brazil their first ever World Cup.

3. Spain 2010

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    Angel Martinez/Getty Images

    The all-conquering Spain team of 2010 would have been fit to grace any World Cup.

    Their "tiki-taka" style suffocated opponents, lulling them into a state of exhaustion that allowed the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso to pick them off at will.

2. West Germany 1974

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    After claiming the European Championships in 1972, West Germany graduated to dominate on the World stage in 1974.

    This team was built around stylish sweeper Franz Beckenbauer, who commanded his troops from the back of the field. Up top, they were able to call on the predatory instincts of Gerd Mueller.

1. Brazil 1970

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    KURT STRUMPF/Associated Press

    The Brazil team of 1970 is the greatest in the history of the World Cup. No team has ever dominated a tournament in the manner that the Selecao did during that summer.

    The Brazilians did more than win the tournament. They inspired a generation.

    There was something almost supernatural about their play, typified by that unforgettable Carlos Alberto goal during the final against Italy.

    That momentand this teamwill be remembered forever.

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    Who do you think is the greatest World Cup team of all time? Let us know in the comments below.