The All-Time, Left-Footed World Football XI

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2012

The All-Time, Left-Footed World Football XI

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    We've all had the conversation about picking the best-ever team—whether that be of all time, current Premier League players, only English players or whatever else. We even do it at the beginning of every season—fantasy football style.

    But how about a team full of the grace, poise, ability and natural-seeming elegance of left-footed players?

    Who would make such a finest-ever XI?

    There have been a number of standout candidates, both from the present day and the many glorious years gone by.

    Here is the all-time world football left-footed XI.

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas

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    We kick off with a goalkeeper who, once he eventually hangs up his gloves, will go down in history as one of the finest ever.

    Current Real Madrid and Spain stopper Iker Casillas has dominated the position for club and country since making his debut in 1999-2000.

    With 137 international caps and well over 600 club appearances behind him, Casillas has shown top-draw reflexes, organisational ability and an all-around goalkeeping approach for well over a decade.

    Trophy-wise, he has a whopping 16 titles to his name, including a World Cup and two European Championships.

Right-Back: Ruud Krol

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    Dutch defender Ruud Krol was a versatile operator, playing the entire width of the back line during the course of his career. Most comfortable in the centre, he nonetheless played full-back on both sides of the pitch.

    Krol spent almost his entire career with Ajax in Holland—partly spent under the guidance of the great Rinus Michels.

    One of the world's best defenders of his generation, Krol played in two European Cup finals, winning both, and later became captain of Ajax.

    He was capped over 80 times for the Holland national team, captaining them in the 1978 World Cup final defeat. He ended the following season as third place in the European Footballer of the Year award.

Left-Back: Giacinto Facchetti

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    One of the best attacking full-backs ever seen, Giacinto Facchetti was a generation ahead of his time with his adventurous play from the back.

    An Inter Milan stalwart with close to 500 league appearances, Facchetti played the defensive aspect of the left-back role with aggression yet self-control and the attacking aspect with fearlessness and a will to win—he also scored 75 goals for his team.

    Capped almost 100 times by Italy, Facchetti was a World Cup runner-up and a European Championships winner with his nation.

    Inter Milan retired his number (3) after his death in 2006, such is the regard in which he is held.

Centre-Back: Paolo Maldini

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    After a career spanning 25 different seasons, Paolo Maldini retired from professional football in 2009 at the age of 41.

    Labelled as simply the best defender in the history of the game by some, Maldini played out his entire career at AC Milan, making over 900 appearances for them in total—and an additional 126 caps for Italy, a national record.

    Maldini's flawless reading of the game saw him frustrate and outwit forwards without ever seeming to come into close contact with them; his positional sense and organisation of those around him were enough to ensure he barely needed to tackle opponents at all.

    The Milan legend, who has also had his shirt number retired (again, 3), won seven Serie A titles and five European Cups with his team.

    His sons are currently part of the Milan youth team and will be allowed to wear his No. 3 shirt if they make it to the first team.

Centre-Back: Daniel Passarella

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    Argentinian central defender Daniel Passarella was another of the finest exponents of the art of stopping the ball, though by a much more naturally aggressive and passionate nature than that of Paolo Maldini, his partner at the back in this particular XI.

    Passarella spent much of his club time at River Plate, where he is now club president, but he also spent six years in Italy with Fiorentina and Inter Milan.

    Captain of his national side, Passarella won the World Cup twice, in '78 and '86, though he played no part on the pitch in the latter tournament.

    Passarella was a free-scoring defender too; for a time, he was world football's highest-scoring recognised defender, until Holland's Ronald Koeman overtook him.

    He netted over 130 career league goals in total.

Central Midfielder: Edgar Davids

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    In midfield, the combative and aggressive Edgar Davids would provide the natural security and platform for the—naturally—more attacking element of the side that will dominate the final third.

    Technically gifted in his own right—to the extent of being one of the best Dutch midfielders throughout the 1990s—the diminutive Dutchman was a terrier on the chase of the ball and a clever creator of chances on it.

    Fierce in the tackle, stamina to run all game and with an attitude that wanted only to win, Davids was one of the most skillful defensive midfield players to grace the game during his time with Ajax, AC Milan and Juventus.

    A nomadic end to his career saw some of the shine taken off that first decade, but Davids won almost 80 caps for Holland and six domestic league titles, three domestic cups, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup.

Central Midfielder: Alfredo Di Stefano

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    We enter the more dynamic and attacking half of the side now, and meet one of football's earliest legends.

    Capped by no less than three countries—the home of his birth, Argentina, as well as Colombia and Spain—the vastly prolific attacker also played for over a decade for Real Madrid.

    Operating either as a midfielder or a striker, di Stefano netted an average of almost a goal per game, totalling almost 500 goals throughout his career.

    A great dribbler and extremely clever with his movement off the ball, di Stefano was, unsurprisingly, most noted for his immaculate finishing prowess.

Right Winger: Leo Messi

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    Only the second player in the XI still performing his magic to date, Leo Messi is the undisputed top player of the current generation of football players.

    A career-long Barcelona player so far, Messi has, at age 25, won five Primera Liga titles, three Champions Leagues, an Olympic Gold medal with Argentina and, on a personal level, won two FIFA Ballon d'Or awards and a FIFA World Player of the Year award.

    He is also the highest-ever scorer for Barcelona, having hit 253 goals in 329 matches.

    The Barcelona number 10 has arguably his best years yet ahead of him, and what he could achieve in the game yet is a frightening thought for rivals and a hugely enticing one for fans of Barca.

Left Winger: Johan Cruyff

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    Hailed as one of the top three footballers of all time, Johan Cruyff helped revolutionise the game in his home nation of Holland as one of the original Total Footballers, which later helped spawn the superpower that has become the national team of Spain.

    Hugely successful as both a player and manager, Cruyff was a fine forward who could play all over the park. His control, skill and awareness saw him outwit countless defenders without seeming to need to try, such was his grace and poise on the ball.

    The now-famous "Cruyff turn" was perfected by the Dutch genius to devastating effect in games.

    Cruyff spent nine seasons at Ajax before heading for Barcelona, where he enjoyed a fruitful further five seasons.

    During his time at these two clubs, he won nine league titles, six domestic cups and three European Cups—all at Ajax.

Attacking Midfielder/Forward: Diego Maradona

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    The master footballer of them all, there is little more that can be said about Diego Maradona after the best part of three decades making headlines, not all of them positive.

    What is for sure, though, is that his inimitable style of play, his refusal to accept defeat and his thoroughbred skill make him the standout player in the history of football.

    Eye-wateringly quick feet, incredible close control and not a bad finish on him either, Maradona was almost exclusively one-footed at times, but his left foot was so good and his balance so nimble and low to the ground that wrenching the ball away from him was damn-near impossible.

    Maradona won 91 caps with Argentina, during which time he almost single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup with five goals and five assists. He also netted one of the most controversial goals of all time, the so-called "Hand of God" goal, and one of the very, very best.

    Both goals came against England within a five-minute spell of each other.

Centre Forward: Ferenc Puskas

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    Maybe the greatest left-footed goalscorer in the history of the game at the very top level, Ferenc Puskas scored a quite incredible total of 616 goals in 620 official matches.

    Eight seasons of his career were spent with Real Madrid, where he netted almost 250 times.

    He also scored 84 times in 85 appearances for the Hungary national side, which enjoyed the best spell of their history with him in the team.

    Puskas possessed a quite lethal left foot that he deployed with ferocity and accuracy in equal measures.

    Quite simply, he was one of the most single-mindedly deadly forwards the game has ever witnessed.

Substitutes/Honourable Mentions

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    The list of players who could have made the XI are almost endless, though some fans might feel justifiably disappointed at the exclusion of a few in particular, who can be named substitutes for this mighty side.

    Jose Luis Chilavert was as eye-catching as he was talented, as the goalkeeper with a penchant for the extreme in both shirt choice and habit of taking free kicks and penalties. His indisputable goalkeeping ability, however, made him a massive favourite at first-team and international levels.

    Roberto Carlos and Paul Breitner both would fit into the left-back role with ease, displaying fantastic attacking ability throughout their careers and featuring in title winning sides.

    In midfield, the elegance and skill, combined with masterful control, of Liam Brady should not go unnoticed amongst the giants of the game.

    Ryan Giggs and John Barnes are two of the finest wingers the game has had the pleasure of witnessing, both with poise, skill and unstoppable pace at their peak.

    And in attack, the creativity, work rate and all-round genius of Raul are difficult to overlook.