National football teams are much like families gathered together for a function. They know each other from childhood, but have branched out and grown up. they come together for a tournament, feel the pride in representing a nation and try to make things work. However, in the midst of all that trying, we sometimes witness football that is sublime and wondrous. National teams are invariably born, and not bought and hence suffer from some form of weakness or the other. However, it is in overcoming these that their redemption lies and we look at some of the greatest national teams to have ever graced the game.
1 Spain 2008-12
Spain had been perennial underachievers at the international stage even as their domestic clubs, especially Barcelona and Real Madrid powered their way to glory. All that changed in 2008 when they won the euro by beating Germany courtesy Fernando ‘el nino’ Torres’ goal. More importantly though, Spain had found a way of playing and overcame the identity crisis that had come to define them in the past. Armed with the ‘carousel’ of Xavi and Iniesta in the midfield, propelled by their legendary goal scorer David Villa and resting back on the charismatic Carles Puyol in defence and Iker Casillas in goal, Spain revolutionized how the game is played with the introduction of the fabled ‘tiki-taka’, passing teams to death. The patient and possession based philosophy had its roots in the dutch total football philosophy brought to Barcelona by the legendary Johann Cruyff. the strong Barcelona core was evident and this was the finest generation ‘La Roja’ had produced. their run culminated in 2012 with another euro win over Italy, and it all came to a screeching halt at Brazil in 2014. But these conquistadors will always be fondly remembered by the football world for how they played.
2 Brazil 2002
Brazil at 2002 is the story of pure talent winning over everything else. Determination, hardwork, organization, the ‘selecaos’ defied all odds to win the world cup in Japan and boy, did they do it with style. Containing the famed Rs of the world, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo in attack, and Lucio and Roberto Carlos in defence, this Brazillian team swept all before them like they were in a trance. Jogo Bonito had never been so perfect and so dreaded. But above all, what really endeared them in the hearts of all football fans was the child-like love for the game and the beaming smiles from the players when they attempted the insane with an air of humour and fun. It must have been effective because they beat Germany and the battle between Oliver Kahn and Ronaldo ‘el phenomeno’ will remain forever etched in the hearts of all who witnessed it. Fairy tale stuff indeed.
3 Argentina 1986-1990
Diego Maradona. The words that will forever haunt Lionel Messi and every English man ever. This generation of players spearheaded by the little magician that Diego Maradona was, achieved two consecutive world cup final finishes, winning one and losing another, both to the same opponents, West Germany. But the special thing about this team was indeed, Maradona. Reverred as a god in Argentina for both his on field as well as off-field antics, Maradona almost single handedly won the world cup for the ‘Albiceleste’ with solo goals against Belgium and that goal against England in which he rounded off almost the entire English team including the goalkeeper. You may love Maradona, hate Maradona, but you could not deny his ability to perform at the biggest stage for the national team.
4 Netherlands 1974-1978
The team whose playing style would change football forever, and the man who will go into the annals of history for being a living embodiment of it, were indeed a marriage made in heaven. Clockwork Oranje as they came to be known, this generation of players truly contained legends of the modern game, but none as prominent as the mercurial Johann Cruyff. His turn has been made into a signature move imitated by kids around the world, but he was the man behind it all. Total Football as a philosophy wasn’t unknown at the time, but it was nothing special. After Cruyff, it became football’s catchphrase. In a nutshell, defenders could attack and attackers could defend. The team kept rotating and interchanging positions, tying defensive organization into knots. It was free flowing, beautiful and worked like clockwork. However, this team is also famous or rather infamous for the best team that never was, due to the lack of trophies it won. Losing both times in the finals at 1974 and 1978 world cups, we can just wonder what would’ve come to pass, had it won those two matches.
5 France 1998-2000
The best thing to come out of France since the Revolution, this generation of players had quality at every position. A young Thierry Henry, Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamp, David Trezeguet and the leader of them all, the legendary Zinedine Zidane, the man who brought Roulettes back in fashion and made a receding hairline look cool. Jokes apart though, this team won the 1998 world cup and then euro 2000. It was an unprecedented era of success in french football which hasn’t been replicated since.
6 Hungary 1950-1956
Famous as the Magical Magyars, hardcore football fans know that this team was no fluke. The way it dominated world football defeating Brazil and Uruguay in the 1954 world cup, before an implosion in the finals against West Germany after going 2-0 up to losing 3-2, will always be a what-if questions in football lore. What is certain though, is that this generation, including star Ferenc Puskas (after whom the Puskas award for the best goal in the world is named) was special. It was sadder when this group came to its epistasis than others because it wasn’t due to natural causes, it was due to the division of Hungary in 1956. A brilliant group of athletes suffering sue to politics. Where have we heard that before?
7 Brazil 1970
The first world cup to be televised in colour saw Brazil stamp their authority once again on the biggest prize ever, with total dominance. The Groundwork had already been laid in the preceding tournaments. With legends like Pele, Jairzinho (who scored in every game that tournament), Carlos Alberto among others , this team entertained and won both hearts and trophies. Few things are agreed upon in this world of opinions, but if something is agreed upon, it is that this team goes down as the greatest to don a national shirt, ever.