Argentina vs. Brazil: The 12 Best Players of All-Time
With fierce rivals Brazil and Argentina set to square off in what is laughably referred to as a “friendly” this week, we're taking a look at some of the finest players to have emerged from the two leading nations in South American football.
We've got World Cup winners, relentless goal-poachers, tough-as-nails defenders and a guy with a deformed spine. Enjoy.
Memorably anointed by Maradona in 2005 as his only worthy successor, Messi has so far lived up to the billing.
Another stunning performance in last year's Champions League final secured his place as the greatest player in the world today. Messi's gifts are well-documented, none more so than his ability to keep the ball seemingly glued to his foot while weaving through tight marking at full speed. Also notable is his determination to keep his feet instead of going down for the free kick, a sadly rare sight in the modern game.
While consistent claims that he has failed to reproduce his club form for the national team are largely justified, this just means he is merely a great player when wearing the albiceleste.
"El Fenomeno" was the striker who had it all: blistering pace, typical Brazilian control, strength on the ball, and a deadly shot with both feet.
Despite a relatively early retirement, Ronaldo stands as testament that a touted “boy wonder” can indeed reach their potential with all the hype surrounding them. The stats speak for themselves—352 goals from 518 club games and 62 goals from his 98 games for his country.
More importantly, he won almost everything there is to win: the World Cup, the Champions League, the Copa America and La Liga, as well as three FIFA World Player of the Year awards and two Ballons d'Or.
Alfredo di Stefano
Those alive to see him play claim that he was better than Maradona and Pele, and we'd like to think that's not dementia playing tricks on them.
Alongside Ferenc Puskas, di Stefano was a staple of the first iteration of Real Madrid's "galacticos." With Real he won five consecutive European cups from 1956 to 1960, and is still the fourth highest goalscorer in La Liga, scoring 216 goals in 282 league matches.
It is probably only his absence from the World Cup that has kept him out of the pantheon of recognised legends of the game.
Romario continued Maradona's legacy of small men doing big damage, with maze-like runs through opposing defences becoming a trademark of his game.
One of the heroes of Brazil's 1994 World Cup triumph, Romario scored in five of the seven matches the seleção played at the tournament.
Although he never settled at a club for too long (he was notoriously truculent with managers), Romario still managed to score 929 goals throughout his career. His final years became a desperate pursuit of the 1000-goal milestone, which he claimed to have reached in 2007, though FIFA does not recognize the achievement as many were scored in youth matches.
Forget about everything off the field. Maradona is the finest player of the color television era.
Those that plump for the stocky Argentinean in the "Maradona vs Pele" debate usually point to the dearth of talent in the rest of Argentina's 1986 World Cup winning team. While Pele had Jairzinho and Tostao, Maradona had the less-than-stellar backing of Valdano and Burruchaga, and still won the Cup.
Arguably, Maradona was also the first player to make soccer sexy, with tricks and moves making easy work for a highlight reel.
Brazil's 1982 World Cup team is still regarded as one the best teams not to win the tournament, and Zico was the man pulling the strings.
Zico had a lot in common with his Argentine contemporary Maradona—both were small, had memorable stints in Serie A, and came in for some particularly rough treatment from defenders.
Zico was one of the first players to consistently turn free kicks into goals (he passes on a few tips in the attached video), and is one of the few greats to have successfully turned his hand to coaching, winning trophies as manager of Japan, Fenerbache and CSKA Moscow.
Never was a nickname so apt as "Bati-gol." Batistuta was unbelievably prolific at both club and national level—246 goals from 406 appearances in Serie A, along with 81 goals in 105 appearances for the national team.
Most notable is that the majority of his Serie A feats were not performed at one of the powerhouses of the league but at oft-struggling Fiorentina. Batistuta's goals dragged them from Serie B to the Champions League, before a move to Roma in 2000 got him the Serie A title he so richly deserved.
With his long hair and excited (sometimes manic) goal celebrations, Batistuta was a colorful addition to a sometimes dour league.
The man against which all Brazilian players are measured. Before Maradona came along there was no debate as to who the greatest player of all time is/was. But Pele has still come top of most official polls, including the respected France Football survey. Even the International Olympic Committee named him "Athlete of the Century."
Still the only player to have won three World Cups, Pele scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games for club and country.
This clip reminds us that he was also one of few players to have used overhead kicks to fight fascism.
While questionable tactics and bribery allegations put something of an asterisk next to Argentina's 1978 World Cup win, Kempes was still the star of the show.
Kempes was the top scorer in the 1978 Cup with six goals (all of them coming in the crucial second stage), and carried his team to victory in the final with a decisive brace, including a dogged, weaving run in extra time.
Kempes was also a star at club level, particularly at Valencia, where he scored 116 goals in 184 matches.
Garrincha's story really is Hollywood material: born with a deformed spine, a bent right leg and a left leg which was six centimetres shorter, Garrincha went on to become one of the finest dribblers of all time.
He was the star of Brazil's 1958 and 1962 World Cup wins, winning the “player of the tournament” award at the latter event.
Despite playing his entire club career in Brazil, Garrincha consistently attracted attention from European giants such as Juventus and Real Madrid. Inter, AC Milan and Juventus were reportedly so interested in him that they considered a joint-signing deal where he would play one season for each club.
Argentina does a roaring trade in brutally tough defenders you don't want marking your best player, and Passarella is still the archetype. Passarella was captain of Argentina's 1978 World Cup winning team and affectionately known as the “Kaiser,” an appropriately stern nickname he retained during a managerial career in which he clashed with stars like Batistuta and Juan Sebastian Veron.
Despite his reputation as a rough player, Passarella was also one of the first defenders to be a regular on the scoresheet, notching 140 goals at club level and 22 for Argentina.
Tostao was an integral part of the so-called "Team of the Century" which won the 1970 World Cup, though his career was unfortunately cut short by a persistent eye problem.
After being hit in the face with a ball during a match for Cruzeiro he was diagnosed with a detached retina. He was forced to retire from the game at the age of 27 as his sight deteriorated. He still managed to notch 249 goals in 378 games for Cruzeiro, as well as 32 for his country.