The greatest XIs in history


What is the greatest XI the sport of football has ever seen?

It’s a question that has no definitive right answer. Members of the older generation will swing towards Brazil’s 1970 World Cup winners, while those who are younger may point to Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side.

To be honest, there are simply too many marvelous XIs to pick from.

Narrowing it down to just a select few is even tough, but back in 2019, Spanish newspaper Marca I know just that.

The publication selected what they believe to be the 11 greatest XIs in football history, domestic or international. Let’s take a look at their picks…

‘Spain’s triple crown’

The XI: Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas.

Spain’s starting XI for their 4-0 Euro 2012 final victory over Italy which secured three major international trophies on the trot. Getting the ball off that team was nigh on impossible…

Spain's XI

‘Brazil’s 1970 champions’

The XI: Felix, Carlos Alberto, Brito, Piazza, Everaldo, Clodoaldo, Gerson, Jairzinho, Rivellino, Tostao, Pele.

A team full of legends. At the 1970 World Cup, Brazil played football from another planet and smashed Italy 4-1 in the final to get their hands on the trophy for a third time in 12 years.

Brazil at the 1970 World Cup

‘Real Madrid’s five-time European champions’

The XI: Juanito Alonso, Marquitos, Jose Santamaria, Rafael Lesmes, Juan Santisteban, Jose Maria Zarraga, Raymond Kopa, Hector Rial, Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Paco Gento.

Five European Cups in a row? Yeah, Real Madrid achieved that extraordinary feat from 1956 to 1960 thanks to the likes of Puskas, Di Stefano, Kopa and Gento, four icons of the game.

Real Madrid's XI

‘Guardiola’s Barcelona’

The XI: Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique, Eric Abidal, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Pedro Rodriguez, Lionel Messi, David Villa.

Best club side ever? Probably. Between 2008 and 2012, the Guardiola-led Barcelona team with Messi in his prime was virtually unstoppable, with their greatest performance coming in the 2011 Champions League final against Manchester Unitedwhich they won 3-1.

Barcelona after winning the 2011 Champions League final

‘Franz Beckenbauer’s Bayern Munich’

The XI: Sepp Maier, Johnny Hansen, Franz Beckenbauer, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Bernd Durnberger, Franz Roth, Franz Krauthausen, Wilhelm Hofmann, Schneider, Uli Hoeness, Gerd Muller.

Beckenbauer’s Bayern side won three consecutive European Cups (1974, 1975 & 1976) and kept clean sheets in all three finals. Not bad, eh?

Bayern Munich legend Franz Beckenbauer

‘The Orange machine of 1974’

The XI: Piet Schrijvers, William Suurbier, Barry Hulshoff, Arie Haan, Ruud Krol, Aad Mansveld, Johan Neeskens, Arnold Muhren, Johnny Rep, Johan Cruyff, Rob Rensenbrink.

The inventors of ‘total football’. Rinus Michels’ teams may have lost in the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals, but are still deservedly regarded as some of the best in history. And in Cruyff, they had one of the greatest players of all time.

Johan Cruyff and some of his teammates

‘Zinedine Zidane’s triple Champions League winners’

The XI: Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Marcelo, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Isco, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo.


No team had successfully defended the Champions League since it was rebranded in 1992/93 until Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid side came along. They then went on to record a historic ‘three-peat’, with Ronaldo scoring goals for fun.

Real Madrid after winning the 2017 Champions League final

‘The Dream Team’

The XI: Andoni Zubizarreta, Albert Ferrer, Ronald Koeman, Miguel Angel Nadal, Pep Guardiola, Juan Carlos, Eusebio, Jose Mari Bakero, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, Txiki Begiristain.

Amazingly, Barcelona didn’t win the European Cup until 1992. Their maiden triumph was secured by Cruyff’s amazing collection of players, with Koeman scoring the winner against Sampdoria in the final.

Barcelona's 'Dream Team'

‘Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan’

The XI: Giovanni Galli, Mauro Tassotti, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alberico Evani, Angelo Colombo, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rjikaard, Roberto Donadoni, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten.

Sacchi’s Milan side did not possess a single weakness, which is why they won the 1989 and 1990 European Cups. Maldini, Van Basten, Gullit, Rjikaard, there were almost too many world-class footballers on show.

Ruud Gullit & Marco van Basten with the European Cup

‘Ajax’s game changers’

The XI: Heinz Stuy, Velibor Vasovic, Wim Suurbier, Barry Hulshoff, Nico Rijnders, Johan Neeskens, Sjaak Swart, Arnold Muhren, Dick van Dijk, Piet Keizer, Johan Cruyff.

Another of Michels’ teams. Prior to taking the Dutch national team job, the manager was working wonders at Ajax with Cruyff. The Amsterdam-based outfit won three European Cups on the spin (1971, 1972 & 1973) and were revered as the most exciting team on the planet.

Ajax after winning the European Cup

‘Pele’s Santos’

The XI: Gilmar, Mouaro, Dalmo, Mengalvio, Zito, Calvet, Dorval, Lima, Coutinho, Pepe, Pele.

A top-quality club side led by the magnificent Pele. Santos were a force to be reckoned with in the 1960s, winning back-to-back Copa Libertadores titles (1962 & 1963).

Pele with Santos
Pele – Santos Mandatory Credit: Action Images

La Liga quiz: Can you name these 30 players from the 2000s?

We’ll start easy…

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