50 of the Best Duos in World Football History

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 12, 2012

50 of the Best Duos in World Football History

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    World football history has been filled with spectacular duos, tandems and partnerships.

    At times, it's arguable that a certain partnership has gone a long way towards clubs securing titles, silverware and stardom.

    This article details 50 of the very best we've seen take part in our beautiful game.

    Enjoy the slideshow!

Xavi and Andres Iniesta

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    Passing duo Xavi and Andres Iniesta is the neatest, tidiest, but also the most deadly combination in world football.

    Club or country, Barcelona or Spain, these two can pass anyone to death and the record set by Xavi for completed passes at Euro 2012 vs. Republic of Ireland is nothing short of astounding.

    They've been the backbone of their respective teams for over six years now and show no signs of slowing down.

Dennis Mortimer and Gordon Cowans

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    Gordon "Sid" Cowans and Dennis Mortimer was the midfield partnership during Aston Villa's historic European Cup run, culminating in a 1-0 victory over Bayern Munich in 1982 to lift the trophy.

    Cowans, now on the coaching staff at Villa Park, was the epitome of a midfield general, and his passing range and accuracy was akin to the Steven Gerrard of modern football.

Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Mourinho

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    There aren't many—if any—better player-manager success stories than Jose Mourinho and Ricardo Carvalho.

    At FC Porto, Carvalho was his manager's defensive rock in their surprise UEFA Champions League winning run. The boss, so convinced of his talent, took him to Chelsea when switching clubs.

    One adventure and several trophy-laden years later, they both departed for Real Madrid at separate times to reunite a third time, although it appears the partnership is coming to an end.

Rivaldo and Ronaldo

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    Rivaldo and Ronaldo led Brazil to 2002 World Cup glory, with the latter's eight goals the undoubted difference between the Selecao and the rest.

    Rivaldo, too, played his part, scoring important goals against Belgium and England in the knockout stages to ensure his country reached the final.

    Apparently they didn't like each other off the pitch. It didn't show.

Paolo Maldini and Mauro Tassotti

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    In the end, Paolo Maldini became a world-class centre-back, but he had to make do with the left-back spot in Arrigo Saachi's AC Milan team for several years.

    Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta held the cards for the Rossoneri's central partnership, so instead Maldini formed an efficient, solid full-back partnership with Mauro Tassotti, who is now the assistant coach at the San Siro.

Tony Adams and Martin Keown

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    Tony Adams was the standout performer in Arsenal's defence towards the end of the old First Division and the primitive years of the English Premier League.

    His defensive partner swapped frequently, and to be honest Steve Bould or Andy Linigan could have taken a place on this list, but it was Martin Keown's company in which Adams excelled the most.

    The two brought the Gunners great success in the form of double-winning seasons in 1998 and 2002.

Kaka and Clarence Seedorf

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    Kaka and Clarence Seedorf were the two men who turned AC Milan around.

    The Rossoneri had struggled to make a splash in the early noughties, but this midfield combination saw to it that Il Diavolo rule Europe once more.

    They helped the San Siro club net a Serie A trophy in 2004, then led them to the UEFA Champions League trophy in 2007.

Gaetano Scirea and Claudio Gentile

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    Gaetano Scirea played as a libero for Italy in the 1982 World Cup, while Claudio Gentile slotted in just ahead in central defence.

    Although they rarely played side by side on the pitch, the use of Bruno Conte in the "tornante" role often saw the Azzurri back line shift right with Scirea pushing in to fill the gap.

    They withstood a barrage in beating Brazil 3-2, then went on to lift the trophy in Madrid.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic

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    Back in 2009, Edwin van der Sar of Manchester United set a new Football League record. He went 1,103 minutes without conceding a single goal in the English Premier League.

    Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were two major contributors to this record, and the Dutch goalkeeper was quick to praise his defence in the wake of that incredible run (via The Guardian).

    They formed a brilliant modern partnership, combing playmaking skills with rock-hard, no-nonsense defending.

Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten

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    Dutch duo Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten collected a real winner's haul of medals during their playing careers, shining both internationally and domestically.

    For AC Milan the two were a menace, winning consecutive European Cups in 1989 and 1990 by toppling Steaua Bucharest and Benfica respectively.

    For the Netherlands, they combined to help win the 1988 European Championships and while Gullit bagged only one goal, van Basten ripped everyone to shreds and scored five.

Raul and Ronaldo

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    Fernando Morientes is probably still wondering what he did that was so wrong for Real Madrid to replace him with Ronaldo.

    The Brazilian struck up a fantastic partnership with Castilla prodigy Raul immediately, and over the course of four glorious seasons, the two scored just shy of 200 goals for los Merengues.

    During this time Los Blancos secured the La Liga crown twice along with the Supercopa once.

Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, often flanking Carlos Tevez up front, provided some of the greatest performances ever seen in a Manchester United shirt.

    Many deemed the Portuguese forward to be mad when he jumped ship for an under-performing Real Madrid, as Sir Alex Ferguson's side had won the English Premier League three times in a row, with a UEFA Champions League trophy to top it off.

Roberto Carlos and Cafu

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    Roberto Carlos and Cafu is one of the best wing-back tandems world football has ever seen.

    The two Brazilians were rampant throughout their respective careers, and together they tormented team after team at the 2002 World Cup before lifting the trophy at the expense of hosts Germany.

    Both were famous for their attacking prowess and industrious runs.

Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann

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    Germany won the 1990 World Cup with an absolutely stunning team, but three goalscorers in particular stood out.

    One was Lothar Matthaus from midfield, the other two formed a deadly strike partnership. Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann were every defender's nightmare, sharing six goals between them and allowing their team to top their group with a huge goal difference.

Djalma Santos and Nilton Santos

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    Aymore Moreira, manager of Brazil during the 1962 World Cup, was the lucky recipient of two of the best full-backs world football has ever seen.

    Djalma and Nilton Santos more or less revolutionised the left- and right-back roles in this period, bringing the explosive, full-throttle defender into vogue.

    As far as pairings go, this is one of the most fearsome the game has produced.

Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp

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    Dennis Bergkamp was perhaps the greatest support striker of all time, so it's no wonder the poacher extraordinaire Thierry Henry thrived off his good, selfless play.

    Together they represented one of most skillful and dangerous front pairings the world had ever seen, spearheading Arsenal to two league titles and three FA Cups.

Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Cristiano Ronaldo is the fastest man in history to score 100 goals in a Real Madrid shirt.

    While half of his efforts are free-kicks, penalties or long-range stunners, the other half can be largely attributed to excellent, selfless work by Mesut Ozil.

    The German No. 10 has been incredible since signing for Jose Mourinho in 2010, and doesn't get the credit he deserves when discussing Ronaldo's exploits.

Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta

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    In 1989, the San Siro played host to a 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid by Arrigo Saachi's AC Milan.

    The central defensive partnership of Franco Barsei and Alessandro Costacurta reigned supreme during this tournament, and the semifinal against Los Blancos saw them stifle the formidable duo of Hugo Sanchez and Emilio Butragueno.

    They retained the trophy the following year with the same central defensive partnership.

Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer

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    Who could forget "SAS?"

    Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton fired Blackburn Rovers to the English Premier League title almost single-handedly, beating off competition from Aston Villa and Manchester United to the very end of the season.

    Shearer and Teddy Sheringham took to the field for England a few years later and while some dubbed them the second coming of "SAS," no partnership could live up to the one these two shared in Lancashire.

Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano

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    From 1955, Real Madrid won five UEFA Champions League titles in a row largely thanks to the goalscoring prowess of their front line.

    Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano formed the most formidable strike partnership in world football history for Los Blancos. And, Di Stefano in particular, scored in each and every one of those five finals.

Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique

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    This partnership may be coming to an end sooner rather than later, so catch every minute of these two together while you still can.

    Spain have always been dramatic underachievers and only managed to win the FIFA World Cup for the first time as recently as 2010, and Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique's contributions from central defence were titanic.

    Barcelona, too, have been the benefactors of this arrangement, as the Spaniards have anchored La Blaugrana to UEFA Champions League and La Liga titles.

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor

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    The managerial career of Brian Clough and loyal assistant Peter Taylor is some story.

    They were together for spells at Hartlepool, Brighton, Derby County and Nottingham Forest, winning two European Cups, one Premier League title and four League Cups with the latter in a particularly successful era.

    Clough remains one of the most famous and revered managers to have graced the game, and players under him credited both he and Taylor for the work they did.

    He was the greatest manager England never had, and in his opinion, was in the "top one" managers in the world.

Roy Keane and Paul Scholes

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    As Paul Scholes developed into an all-action, forward-thinking midfielder, someone had to stay back and hold the fort.

    That man was Roy Keane, who's tough tackling and prickly exterior struck enough fear into the opposition to keep Manchester United's midfield relatively safe despite Scholes' constant forward runs.

    Their continued good form kept Nicky Butt out of Sir Alex Ferguson's line up for several years.

Emilio Butragueno and Hugo Sanchez

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    Emilio Butragueno and Hugo Sanchez shared a hugely fruitful partnership for Real Madrid from the mid-to-late 1980s.

    Together, they fired Los Merengues to five successive La Liga titles, with Buitre in particular bagging just under 200 goals in that period.

    The one thing missing from both their resumes is the European Cup, but that shouldn't take away from what a wonderful tandem these two formed.

Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres

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    When Fernando Torres joined Chelsea from Liverpool, his immediate form was terrible.

    Many speculated what the cause for his goal drought was, and the most compelling argument was his missing of Steven Gerrard's productivity.

    The lion's share of goals the Spaniard put away during his time in red were thanks to an inch-perfect through-ball from the England international, and the switch in system saw his game dip as a result.

    This was a partnership that nearly won Liverpool the title single-handedly in 2009.

Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore

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    Sir Alf Ramsey built a sturdy England side in order to win the 1966 World Cup, and the central defensive duo of Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore in particular represented the solid, pragmatic approach the Three Lions took in that tournament.

    It was Bobby Moore's long pass in the dying minutes which lead to Geoff Hurst's thumping finish to make it 4-2, and the back line as a whole let in just three goals.

Edgar Davids and Zinedine Zidane

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    Edgar Davids and Zinedine Zidane set a benchmark for world football with their successes at Juventus.

    The combination of the two and their style of play made the deep-lying playmaker extinct during the 2000s.

    The duo went a long way towards securing two Serie A titles for The Old Lady, as well two runner-up medals in the UEFA Champions League.

Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke

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    Around 1998, Manchester United made some rather expensive acquisitions for their forward line in Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.

    Their relationship was described as telepathic at times, and it's rare to see two players of such similarities perform so well together.

Ryan Giggs and David Beckham

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    From 1995 to 2003, Manchester United had one of the best wide midfield tandems world football has ever witnessed.

    No wonder Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole scored so many under Sir Alex Ferguson—they had these two whipping crosses in from the left and right.

    David Beckham ended up leaving United rather unceremoniously, but Ryan Giggs is nothing short of a Manchester United legend.

Nandor Hidegkuti and Ferenc Puskas

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    There were several slick, mesmerising partnerships in the 1953 Hungary side which beat England 6-3 at Wembley.

    The most prominent of them all, if you take into account Zoltan Czibor's rather wide-of-centre starting position, was Nandor Hidegkuti and Ferenc Puskas.

    Hidegkuti played a withdrawn centre forward role and scored a hat trick on that fateful day. His service to Puskas was impeccable on every occasion.

Zico and Socrates

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    The 1982 World Cup saw Brazil arrive as pre-tournament favourites for a reason.

    Tele Santana's team was bursting full of talent, and no midfield tandem at the event was superior in skill to the samba duo Zico and Socrates.

    The team underachieved and exited the competition after a 3-2 loss to a Paolo Rossi-inspired Italy, but even in that game the pair showed what they were capable of—Socrates slid Zico in for the Selecao's opener.

Johan Neeskens and Johan Cruyff

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    Dutch duo Johan Neeskens and Johan Cruyff spearheaded Ajax to a trio of European Cup victories at the beginning of the 1970s.

    Neeskens, who originally played right-back, moved into midfield to support the mercurial Cruyff and his withdrawn centre forward style of play.

    The two were never quite able to replicate their domestic successes on the international, but their achievements with Ajax are enough to write their names into folklore.

Tarcisio Burgnich & Armando Picchi

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    Tarcisio Burgnich and Armando Picchi anchored a stellar back line for Internaziole under Helenio Herrera.

    Herrera, the pioneer of the catenaccio footballing system, relied on Picchi as a libero and Burgnich as a central defender in a similar way to the aforementioned Gaetano Scirea and Claudio Gentile.

    This back line won two European Cups under their Argentinian coach.

Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso

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    Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso have formed one of the most efficient midfield pivots in modern football.

    For anyone looking to see how the "2" in the 4-2-3-1 formation should operate, look no further than Jose Mourinho's reliable, combative duo.

    The German provides the steel, while the Spaniard brings the flair. Perfect combination.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona

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    Eric Cantona was borderline unmanageable, and he's lucky that the only man capable of containing him wound up as his boss for several successful years at Manchester United.

    Sir Alex Ferguson is not known for putting up with rubbish from his players, but even he made a small allowance for a special, yet temperamental, talent.

Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister

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    Defensive pairings don't come much tougher than Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister. Even Robbie Fowler admitted he could never find a way to get the better of them.

    Four Premier League titles and three FA Cup wins goes a long way toward proving that statement as true, as Manchester United's defence withstood excellent strikers such as Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton and Dwight Yorke.

George Best and Denis Law (and Bobby Charlton)

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    The Holy Trinity of Manchester United cannot be left off this list despite the fact that there was technically three of them.

    The goals these three scored kept the smiles on the faces of Red Devils fans still understandably shocked from the devastating Munich air disaster, helping the team stay in the English First Division on a consistent basis.

    Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton were a phenomenal trio of footballers.

Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet

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    Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet represent the best striking duo in Juventus' illustrious history.

    Together they secured four Serie A titles (although two were revoked after Calciopoli), sharing an absolutely unbelievable goal return for The Old Lady.

    Both players stuck with the Bianconeri when the club was controversially relegated to Serie B in 2006.

Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso

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    Italian duo Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso marshaled the highly successful AC Milan midfield from the early 1990s up until the late noughties.

    Pirlo shone consistently from his regista role in the midfield diamond, while Gattuso provided tough tackling and aggressiveness to the side.

    The two combined well for both club and country over a period spanning more than a decade.

Jermain Defoe and Harry Redknapp

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    Jermain Defoe is something of an English Premier League journeyman, and that's partly because Harry Redknapp buys him for every new club he manages.

    They've been together since Defoe's early days at West Ham, where the wiley old manager tipped him for great things in the game.

    After stuttering at Tottenham, Redknapp took him to Portsmouth and the England international flourished. A return to Spurs then saw Defoe appear in the UEFA Champions League, keeping company with the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric.

Richard Keys and Andy Gray

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    Only joking.

    Moving on.

Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen

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    Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen anchored a highly successful Liverpool back line.

    The now-BBC Match of the Day punditry team helped the Reds to one of their most successful decades in the history of the club, winning five English First Division titles together during the 1980s.

    After Liverpool's successive titles towards the end of the 1970s, the fans may have been forgiven for fearing the worst as Phil Thompson slipped out of the side. Lawrenson proved an equally valuable partner to Hansen.

Ally McCoist and Mark Hateley

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    Ally McCoist and Mark Hateley shared a highly successful partnership for the Rangers during the early noughties.

    With their goalscoring prowess on side, the Gers won the Scottish Premier League in five successive years (1991-1995), with McCoist in particular enjoying some incredibly productive seasons.

John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho

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    Both John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho have won numerous medals at Stamford Bridge over the last decade, and together formed the central defensive partnership to beat in 2005.

    They were a huge influence in a side which finally clinched a first English Premier League title in half a century, letting in just 15 goals all season.

Kevin Keegan and John Toshack

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    The much-maligned John Toshack was once an excellent player, partnering Kevin Keegan up front for Liverpool to great effect.

    You knew what you were going to get with the Welshman. It wasn't fancy footwork, it was good old fashioned target man work, winning the ball and knocking it down for Keegan.

    What a great partnership.

Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush

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    Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush were the next strike partnership to take Liverpool by storm after Kevin Keegan and John Toshack's exploits.

    Either playing together, or with Dalglish as manager of the club, the two helped the Reds to secure five league titles, two FA Cups and one European Cup.

    Of the two, Rush was the most prolific, surpassing the 30-goal mark seven times during his time at Anfield.

Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro

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    The Italian national team has been built on its defensive success for decades now, and the partnership of Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro ranks right up there with the very best.

    They made their debuts just before the 1998 World Cup in France, with Cannavaro making the starting lineup for the team. Nesta was only on the bench in that tournament, but they both took to the field for Euro 2000 and were unlucky not to grab their first major international honours there and then.

    In the end, Cannavaro captained the Azzurri to World Cup success in 2006. Nesta was injured early in the tournament.

Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips

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    Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips is hardly the most prestigious partnership in world football, but they're another classic example of a big man-small man tandem at its finest.

    Phillips, in particular, went on incredible goalscoring runs during his time at Sunderland despite the club being a mid-table outfit, while Quinn was the equivalent of Kevin Keegan's John Toshack.

Dieter Hoeness and Karl-Heinze Rumenigge

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    Dieter Hoeness and Karl-Heinze Rumenigge fired Bayern Munich all the way to the European Cup final in 1982, only to fall at the last hurdle to Aston Villa.

    In truth, Peter Withe and Co. were incredibly lucky to win that game, and the match in Rotterdam should have seen the two add to their goal tallies, standing at seven and six respectively.

    Had they won, they would have cemented their place as one of the best strike partnerships in history.

Bobby Robson and Jose Mourinho

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    Superb managers don't appear out of the blue. Jose Mourinho, initially hired as a translator for Sir Bobby Robson, went above and beyond his role while at Sporting Lisbon and Benfica.

    After Robson's time in Portugal, he took Mourinho with him again to Barcelona. It was there that he was moved into an official coaching capacity and became his own man.

    After staying on as assistant manager at Barcelona to Louis van Gaal, "The Special One" broke into management himself with Leiria, followed by a return to Benfica.


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