FIFA World Cup: All-time greatest XI

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The World Cup takes place every four years and for those who have lifted the famous trophy, their legacies have cemented them as the world's greatest ever players. Here's a look at possibly the greatest FIFA World Cup XI of all-time.

Goalkeeper: Gordon Banks | England

The only English number one goalkeeper to celebrate winning the World Cup.  Banks is perhaps best remembered not for his performance in the '66 England side that defeated West Germany 4-2 in the final but for the greatest save of all time when Banks dived to save a bullet header from the legendary Pele.  

Banks won the FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year a phenomenal six years in a row from 1966 to 1971, along with earning 73 caps for his country. The former Leicester and Stoke City stopper is considered by many as England's greatest ever goalkeeper and even the greatest of all time.

Right-back: Cafu | Brazil

The great Cafu earned over 140 caps for Brazil and more than 20 of these were World Cup appearances. The legendary full-back is the only player to have played in three World Cup finals and won the trophy with his country twice. Firstly in 1994 before captaining Brazil to their unprecedented fifth World Cup title in 2002.

In 1994, Brazil played out a 0-0 draw with Italy before the Selecao won 3-2 on penalties in the United States. Cafu and Brazil were unable to regain their World Cup title as they lost 3-0 to the hosts France in the final. However four years later, Brazil were back on track defeating Germany 2-0 in the final courtesy of two goals from Ronaldo and Cafu was given the honour of lifting the trophy high above his head as Brazil celebrated World Cup success once again.  With much of the team retired by 2006, Brazil would be eliminated from the tournament by France at the quarter final stage. 

Cafu achieved huge success throughout his career and the right-back is remembered for his tireless overlapping runs and great stamina.

Centre-back: Franz Beckenbauer | Germany

What Pele is to Brazil and Maradona is to Argentina, Beckenbauer is to Germany.  Die Kaiser starred in three World Cups for the then West Germany. His first taste of the tournament would end with his country missing out in the final in 1966, losing 4-2 to hosts England after extra time.

In 1970, West Germany reached the semi final but lost to Italy in a dramatic match that ended 4-3.  Perhaps more incredible than the match itself was that Beckenbauer fractured a bone in his arm but continued to play to help his country reach the final. 

Success for Beckenbauer and West Germany finally came in 1974 and with a hard fought 2-1 over the Netherlands, Die Kaiser became the first captain to lift the new World Cup trophy which you see today.

Beckenbauer played over 100 games for West Germany and is considered by many to be not only the greatest German player of all time but also the greatest defender ever as well.

Centre-back: Fabio Cannavaro | Italy

Partnering Die Kaiser at centre-back is the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year, Fabio Cannavaro. The Italian centre-half is the most capped player for his country having appeared 136 times and is regarded as one of the greatest defenders of his generation.

Cannavaro's first tournament was the 1998 World Cup where he played alongside other great Italian defenders such as Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta and Giuseppe Bergomi. Italy were knocked out by France at the quarter-final stage following a penalty shootout. At the 2002 tournament, Cannavaro was credited with holding the defence together when Alessandro Nesta was injured during the group stage. Italy were once again knocked out in the quarter finals, this time against hosts South Korea in controversial fashion.

Cannavaro was his country's captain throughout the whole of the 2006 World Cup.  One of the defender's key performances in that tournament was against Germany in the semi final as Italy won 2-0. His crowning moment came when he lifted the trophy following Italy's penalty shootout win over France, the victory coincided with Cannavaro earning his 100th cap for his country.

Left-back: Carlos Alberto | Brazil

The captain of the famous 1970 Brazil team that won the World Cup in Mexico.  The full back is highly regarded as one of the greatest defenders of all time and is perhaps best known for his goal against Italy in the final of the 1970 World Cup. The fourth goal in a 4-1 win for the Selecao is considered one of the best goals in the tournament's history.

Unfortunately for Alberto, it would be the only time he played in a World Cup finals.  Despite this the full back completed 53 caps for his country and scored eight goals. Described by many as the greatest team of all time, the legendary eleven included Tostao, Rivelino, Pele, Jairzinho and of course Alberto.

Given that full-backs are notorious for making surging runs forward in the modern game, Alberto is considered a pioneer for this style of play. Add to this, the full-back is a member of the World Team of the 20th Century, ensuring he is without doubt one of the greatest players of all time.

Centre-midfield: Lothar Matthaus | Germany

The tenacious midfielder played in five World Cups (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998) for his country, more than any other outfield player. He is also the most capped German player of all time with a staggering 150 appearances to his name and scored 23 times.

The German's first two World Cup tournaments would end on a low as his country were beaten in both finals in 1982 by Italy 3-1 and then in 1986 by Argentina 3-2. However in 1990, Germany got the revenge they were looking for when Andreas Brehme scored a penalty to secure his country's third World Cup triumph at the expense of the team who had beaten them in the final four years earlier, Argentina. With that Matthaus had earned his second international medal with West Germany winning the European Championship in 1980.

Matthaus remains the only German to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year which he named in 1991 as well as winning the Ballon d'Or the previous year. In his autobiography, Diego Maradona revealed that Matthaus was the best rival he ever had. High praise indeed.

Right-wing: Garrincha | Brazil

Known as the little bird, the Brazilian winger won two World Cups in 1958 and 1962. He was the outstanding player of the '62 tournament. Brazil's star player Pele suffered an injury in the second match and was out of action for the rest of the finals. 

Garrincha played a key role in Brazil's triumph especially in games against England in the quarter-final and Chile in the semi-final, the winger scored four goals in those two matches. The Selecao faced Czechoslovakia in the final, winning 3-1 to lift the trophy for the second time in as many tournaments.  Garrincha was unsurprisingly voted the best player of the '62 World Cup.

The little bird played the majority of his club career for his hometown club, Botafago. He also won 50 caps for his country, scoring 12 goals.

Left-wing: Pele | Brazil

Regarded by many experts, fans and players as the greatest player of all time.  The Brazilian legend's legacy speaks for itself. Pele is the only player to win the World Cup three times during his career, scoring a total of 12 goals in the tournament.

His first World Cup came at the age of 17 in 1958. At the time Pele was the youngest player to ever compete in the finals. He scored a hat-trick in the semi-final against France, becoming the youngest player in World Cup history to do so. The final pitted Pele's Brazil against hosts Sweden in which he scored two goals as the Selecao won the tournament for the first time. He missed the majority of the 1962 finals but still ended up collecting a medal as Brazil were crowned world champions for a second time in a row.

Pele's defining moment in international football came in 1970.  In a team considered to be the greatest eleven in history, Brazil defeated the likes of Romania, England and Uruguay en route to the final. The Selecao played Italy to determine who would become world champions. With both countries looking to become World Cup winners for a third time it was Brazil who took the trophy home with Pele scoring the first goal in a 4-1 win.

Pele won 92 caps for Brazil, scoring 77 goals. He is also credited with scoring over 1,000 goals in all competitions in his career and is in an elite group of the greatest players of all time. There aren't enough words to describe what Pele represents to the sport but his contributions have made him a hero not only in Brazil, but also around the world.

Attacking midfield: Zinedine Zidane | France

The Frenchman makes the list ahead of fellow winners Diego Maradona and Rivaldo for his efforts in both the 1998 and 2006 World Cup finals.

Widely considered the best French player of all time, Zidane was the focal point of his country's triumph in the 1998 tournament. He played a key role in helping his team reach the final, but was yet to score. However when France played against holders Brazil in the final, Zidane was set to become the stand out player of the tournament. France dominated Brazil from the first minute of the match, Zidane scored two goals as France became world champions on home soil following a 3-0 win. Zizou as he was to become known as, was now a national hero.

France performed poorly at the 2002 World Cup. This was largely due to a thigh injury which kept the talismanic Zidane on the sidelines as his country relinquished their title. France were back to their best in 2006 with Zidane once again the catalyst. Les Bleus defeated Spain, Brazil and Portugal before facing Italy in the final. Despite scoring a penalty earlier in the game, Zidane was sent off for head-butting Italy's Marco Materazzi in the chest. With no Zidane, France were defeated on penalties by the Azzurri and Zidane retired from football. Nonetheless the France number 10 received the Golden Ball for best player at the 2006 tournament and can look back at a glorious career in which he won the World Cup, the European Championship, the Champions League as well as many other individual honours.

Striker: Gerd Muller | West Germany

Throughout the 1960's and 70's, Der Bomber was the most feared striker in world football. With 14 goals for West Germany in the World Cup, his record of top scorer in the tournament lasted for over 35 years.

Muller scored 68 goals in 62 games for West Germany and began his international career coming into the 1966 World Cup. During that tournament, the Bayern Munich striker scored four goals for his country as reached the final in a losing effort to hosts England. Four years later in 1970, Muller scored an outstanding 10 goals in Mexico which only further indicated his ability as a goal poacher.

Although he did not score during the 1974 World Cup, West Germany were crowned world champions for a second time, defeating international rivals the Netherlands 2-1 in the final and with that Muller added a World Cup winners medal to a long list of honours. Muller scored more than 700 times in his career for club and country and has since gone down in history as one of the game's deadliest ever strikers.

Striker: Ronaldo | Brazil

While Muller's reign of top World Cup goalscorer lasted more than 35 years, the lethal Brazilian was the man to break the German's record in 2006 when he reached his 15th World Cup goal for Brazil.

Ronaldo was part of the 1994 Brazil squad that became World Champions, however the striker did not play as he was back-up to prominent forward Romario. Four years later Ronaldo was Brazil's key man and scored four goals to aid the team reaching the final. Brazil missed out on the trophy as France lifted the trophy.  The night before the final, Ronaldo suffered a fit and was therefore unable to produce his best for the match against Les Bleus.

The 2002 tournament was held in Korea/Japan and this was to be the stage where Ronaldo announced what a talent he was. The striker scored in all but one game and scored two goals in the final against Germany to ensure he was top scorer at the tournament and that his country were world champions for a record breaking fifth time. Many claimed that Ronaldo was past his best when the 2006 World Cup was held in Germany. However Ronaldo scored three goals in an otherwise poor tournament for Brazil. His goal against Ghana meant that he had broken Gerd Muller's record with 15 goals. Ronaldo scored 62 times in 98 appearances for the Selecao and has often been identified as his country's greatest ever striker.

Is this your best World Cup XI? If not, who would make the cut for your team? Get in touch and leave a comment below.


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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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