Messi, Pele, Ronaldo: The 30 greatest South American players of all time ranked

  • Kobe Tong
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The latest edition of the Copa America will crown the strongest footballing nation in South America.

While football fans are also spoilt with the joys of Euro 2020 this summer, millions of heads will turn to Brazil to see whether the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar can shine for their nations.

Besides, South America is one of the richest continents of all when it comes to footballing heritage with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay all having won the World Cup on multiple occasions.

South American legends

Not only are their national teams always amongst the strongest in the world, but they also have a justified reputation for producing some of the greatest players to ever appear in the beautiful game.

From Messi to Diego Maradona and Pele to Ronaldo Nazario, many supporter would select a South American player as the footballer they consider to be the finest the sport has ever seen. 

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Now, that's all well and good, but who is the South American legend to rule them all? It's a tough question, there's no doubt about it and it'll take more than a few opinions to get a fair vague.

And that's why we're turning to ranker.com because their interactive list of 'The Greatest South American Footballers of All Time' allows fans to upvote and downvote the continent's greats.

At the time of writing, more than 12,000 supporters have made their opinion known and it's with great fascination that we can present to you the top 30 as things stand in June 2021.

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Top 30 greatest South American players

With controversy abound, we promise you won't be let down, so check out the 30 legends below:

30. Freddy Rincón

29. Neymar

28. Alexis Sanchez

27. Roberto Rivelino

26. Hernan Crespo

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25. Teófilo Cubillas

24. Thiago Silva

23. Juan Román Riquelme

22. Kaka

21. Falcao

30-21 summary

So, let's get a few bits of housekeeping out of the way first because it's nothing short of scandalous that the likes of Carlos Alberto and Daniel Passarella haven't even been included in the top 30.

Meanwhile, there's no way that Neymar should be behind the likes of Sanchez and Crespo when he's on course to become the greatest goalscorer that Brazil has ever seen with 67 goals already.

And no, that's not Radamel Falcao edging out Kaka, but the original Brazilian Falcao who starred in the Selecao's iconic 1982 squad that is arguably the greatest to never have won the World Cup.

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20. Pele

19. Cafu

18. Carlos Valderrama

17. Sergio Aguero

16. Diego Forlan

15. Gabriel Batistuta

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14. Roberto Carlos

13. Rivaldo

12. Luis Suarez

11. Javier Zanetti

20-11 summary

Sorry what?!?! Clearly people who think that Pele is overrated have taken it upon themselves to relegate one of the greatest players of all time to only 20th in the annuls of South America.

It goes without saying that one of the most prolific goalscorers in history with three World Cup titles should be much, much higher on the list, but clearly several thousands supporters think otherwise.

But aside from that controversy, Zanetti can count himself lucky to be so far clear of Cafu, while it's good to see Suarez getting the credit he deserves as one of the modern era's most lethal strikers.

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10. Mario Kempes

9. Socrates

8. Romario

7. Zico

6. Alfredo Di Stefano

5. Ronaldinho

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4. Garrincha

3. Lionel Messi

2. Ronaldo

1. Diego Maradona

Top ten summary

You know the list is competitive when Messi is finishing as low as third place, but when you see the quality being thrown around the podium, there's only so much you can split hairs about each medal.

Lower down the side, it's good to see Garrincha, who dominated the 1962 World Cup, getting his due praise but it's difficult to justify him finishing above Romario, Ronaldinho and Di Stefano.

And it goes without saying that Pele would easily finish in the top ten if we had any say in things, while Kempes' brace in the 1978 World Cup final has probably inflated his own finish in tenth.

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Maradona crowned the greatest

Woof. I guess it goes to show that the collective opinions of football fans isn't always the best way to decide footballing debates, though there can't be many complaints with Maradona in top spot.

For us, the quartet of Maradona, Pele, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if you include European players are practically interchangeable as contenders in the GOAT debate.

Each have brought their own legendary impact to the beautiful game across greatly varying eras and it's a credit to South American football that three of them hail from their shores.

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So, sure, the opinion of 12,000 fans might not have nailed it in many people's eyes - what were they thinking with Pele?! - but let it underline just how many icons that South America have produced.

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