Thomas Swan has been an avid fan of the English Premier League and international football for more than 30 years.
Who Are the Best World Cup Teams?
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be the 22nd tournament of its kind in football (soccer) history, with the first being held in 1930. It is the biggest sporting event in the world, and it is hosted every four years in a different location.
There have been many great World Cup teams, but the following list only includes World Cup winners, which limits it to the 21 champions since 1930, and it excludes some talented but flawed teams such as Johan Cruyff's Netherlands team (1974) and Ferenc Puskás's Hungary team (1954), who were both defeated by Germany in their respective finals.
Statistics and videos are provided to help you judge the ability of the teams selected below. Some teams that won successive tournaments are included as single entries. The other nine winners are each mentioned at the end of the article with a brief reason for their exclusion.
10. Spain (2010)
- Matches: 7 (W6, D0, L1)
- Goals scored: 8
- Goals conceded: 2
- Top goalscorer: David Villa (5 goals)
Between 2008 and 2012, Spain were quite possibly the best team in the world, and it was no surprise when they won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Unfortunately, their performances didn't quite match their reputation, nor do justice to their unique "tiki-taka" style of play.
Spain's victory set a record for the fewest goals (8) scored by a winning team. However, they were also the first team to not concede a goal in the knockout stage, beating Portugal (round of 16), Paraguay (quarter final), Germany (semi final), and Netherlands (final) each by a 1-0 scoreline. Andrés Iniesta scored in the final during extra time.
Despite their underwhelming performances (which included losing their opener to Switzerland), their victory was no surprise, and it is difficult to imagine many other historic winners beating this Spanish team, which included greats such as David Villa, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, and Carles Puyol.
9. Italy (1934–1938)
- Matches: 5 (W4, D1, L0, in 1934), 4 (W4, D0, L0, in 1938)
- Goals scored: 12 (1934), 11 (1938)
- Goals conceded: 3 (1934), 5 (1938)
- Top goalscorer: Angelo Schiavio (4 goals, 1934), Silvio Piola (5 goals, 1938)
Although Italy's victory in the 1934 World Cup was controversial (it was hosted in Italy under the corrupt leadership of Benito Mussolini), their victory four years later in France was not. Managed by the legendary Vittorio Pozzo, they defeated every opponent in both tournaments (their draw against Spain in the 1934 quarter final was followed by a victory in a replay).
The format of these World Cups deserves some criticism, however. Only 16 teams competed in a straight knockout tournament (i.e., 4 games). Furthermore, the 1934 tournament did not include the 1930 winners, Uruguay, and Italy required extra time to beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final after defeating Austria 1-0 in the semi final.
In the 1938 tournament, they were more emphatic in the latter stages, defeating their French hosts 3-1 in the quarter final, Brazil 2-1 in the semi final, and Hungary 4-2 in the final. Italy's star player, Giuseppe Meazza, made two assists in that final, and he also won the Golden Ball in 1934 (the award given to the best player).
8. England (1966)
- Matches: 6 (W5, D1, L0)
- Goals scored: 11
- Goals conceded: 3
- Top goalscorer: Geoff Hurst (4 goals)
The 1966 World Cup was hosted and won by England. After a 0-0 draw with Uruguay in the group stage, they beat Mexico and France (both 2-0) to win their group.
England faced stiff opposition in the knockout phase. They beat Argentina 1-0 in the quarter final before facing Portugal, led by the free-scoring Eusébio (who netted 9 goals in 6 games). England beat Portugal 2-1 with two goals from Bobby Charlton before defeating Germany 4-2 in the final (in extra time). Geoff Hurst became the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final.
Alongside Hurst and Charlton, the England team included the legendary goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, defenders, Bobby Moore and Jack Charlton, and striker, Roger Hunt.
7. Brazil (2002)
- Matches: 7 (W7, D0, L0)
- Goals scored: 18
- Goals conceded: 4
- Top goalscorer: Ronaldo (8 goals)
With Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho in their attack, and Roberto Carlos and Cafu as full-backs, this was the greatest Brazilian team since 1970, and the last to win a World Cup (their fifth title). They cruised through the 2002 tournament, which was held in South Korea and Japan, winning all of their games.
The tournament saw Ronaldo (8 goals) and Rivaldo (5 goals) at their peak. They beat Turkey 2-1, China 4-0. and Costa Rica 5-2 in the group stage. They then beat Belgium 2-0 (round of 16), England 2-1 (quarter final), Turkey 1-0 (semi final), and Germany 2-0 (final).
Apart from England and Germany, the quality of Brazil's opposition can be criticized. Argentina, Italy, and France (the previous winners) had all been eliminated early on, leaving Brazil and Germany as the hot favorites.
6. Germany (2014)
- Matches: 7 (W6, D1, L0)
- Goals scored: 18
- Goals conceded: 4
- Top goalscorer: Thomas Müller (5 goals)
Although the Brazilian team they faced in the semi-finals was not the best, this German team proved that emphatically by thrashing them 7-1 on their home turf in one of the most memorable games in football history (see video below at 7:12).
Germany was an incredible team in 2014 because it had several players from the best club team at the time: Bayern Munich. This included Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Jérôme Boateng, and Mario Götze. The team also included Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose, and Mats Hummels.
With fantastic players in every position, Germany beat Portugal 4-0, drew with Ghana 2-2, and beat the United States 1-0 in the group stage. They then defeated Algeria 2-1 (round of 16), France 1-0 (quarter final), Brazil 7-1 (semi final), and Argentina 1-0 in the final with an extra time goal from Mario Götze.
5. Italy (1982)
- Matches: 7 (W4, D3, L0)
- Goals scored: 12
- Goals conceded: 6
- Top goalscorer: Paolo Rossi (6 goals)
Italy started poorly at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. They drew all of their group stage games and only advanced because they had scored more goals than Cameroon. Unlike most other World Cups, there was a second group phase (4 groups of 3 teams), in which Italy was drawn with Brazil and Argentina, two of the strongest teams in the tournament.
Despite Argentina having both Diego Maradona and Mario Kempes in the same team, Italy beat them 2-1, with Gaetano Scirea being the standout defender. They then achieved a 3-2 victory against what may have been the best Brazilian team never to win a World Cup (with players such as Zico, Sócrates, Falcão, and Éder). Paolo Rossi scored a hat-trick in the game.
The team went on to defeat Poland 2-0 (semi final) and Germany 3-1 (final). As well as Rossi and Scirea, the team was captained by one the greatest ever goalkeepers, Dino Zoff, who was 40 years-old at the time.
4. France (1998)
- Matches: 7 (W6, D1, L0)
- Goals scored: 15
- Goals conceded: 2
- Top goalscorer: Thierry Henry (3 goals)
The French team in 1998 had brilliance in every position: Barthez, Lizarazu, Thuram, Leboeuf, Desailly, Deschamps, Karembeu, Petit, Vieira, Djorkaeff, Henry and, of course, Zinedine Zidane. This was a team with sublime strength and skill.
On home soil, they beat South Africa 3-0, Saudi Arabia 4-0, and Denmark 2-1 in the group stage. Then they defeated Paraguay 1-0 (round of 16), Italy on penalties (quarter final), Croatia 2-1 (semi final), and Brazil 3-0 in the final. Zidane scored twice in the final with Ronaldo blanking for Brazil.
It could be argued that France didn't even play their best team, with Henry and Vieira often left on the bench. Although it is difficult to compare eras, it is hard to imagine anyone beating this French team, and they are certainly the best World Cup team from the modern era.
3. Brazil (1958–1962)
- Matches: 6 (W5, D1, L0, same record in 1958 and 1962)
- Goals scored: 16 (1958), 14 (1962)
- Goals conceded: 4 (1958), 5 (1962)
- Top goalscorer: Pelé (6 goals, 1958), Garrincha and Vavá (4 goals, 1962)
The 1958 World Cup in Sweden marked the beginning of Brazil as the greatest nation in World football, and the arrival of Pelé who, as a 17 year-old, did more than anyone to establish it.
In the group stage, Brazil beat Austria 3-0, drew with England 0-0, and beat the Soviet Union 2-0. Having not scored in the group stage, Pelé came to life with the goal that secured their 1-0 victory over Wales (quarter final), a hat-trick in the 5-2 defeat of France (semi final), and a brace in the 5-2 win over Sweden (final).
Four years later in Chile, Brazil were at it again. Pelé scored in their 2-0 opening win over Mexico, but he was injured and out of the tournament in the second game (a 0-0 draw with Czechoslovakia). A 2-1 victory over Spain followed, with convincing defeats of England (3-1, quarter final), Chile (4-2, semi final), and Czechoslovakia (3-1, final) securing the trophy.
In 1958, Brazil's star players included Pelé, Didi, and Garrincha. In 1962, it was Garrincha, Vavá, and Zito.
2. Germany (1974)
- Matches: 7 (W6, D0, L1)
- Goals scored: 13
- Goals conceded: 4
- Top goalscorer: Gerd Müller (4 goals)
The 1974 World Cup was the culmination of a period of innovation in European football (no doubt after watching the genius of Brazil). Two incredible teams swept aside the opposition to reach the final: Franz Beckenbauer's (West) Germany and Johan Cruyff's Netherlands. The level of quality in the final (see video below) may surprise many younger fans.
In the first group phase, Germany beat Chile 1-0 and Australia 3-0 but lost to East Germany 1-0 on their home turf. Still, they advanced and won all three of their games in the second group phase, defeating Yugoslavia 2-0, Sweden 4-2, and Poland 1-0.
Winning this group set up a meeting with Netherlands (the other group winner) in the final. In what some regard as the greatest final ever, it was Germany who prevailed 2-1, with Gerd Müller scoring the winning goal. As well as Müller and Beckenbauer, this team had the great Sepp Maier in goal.
1. Brazil (1970)
- Matches: 6 (W6, D0, L0)
- Goals scored: 19
- Goals conceded: 7
- Top goalscorer: Jairzinho (7 goals)
Who other than Brazil could have the greatest World Cup team of all time? Although Brazil won five World Cups between 1958 and 2002, their peak came in 1970. They still had Pelé (4 goals), but they had added Jairzinho (7 goals), Rivellino (3 goals), Tostão (2 goals), Carlos Alberto (1 goal), Gérson (1 goal) and Clodoaldo (1 goal).
Brazil won every game at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, starting with Czechoslovakia 4-1, England 1-0, and Romania 3-2 in the group phase. In the knockout games, they defeated Peru 4-2 (quarter final), Uruguay 3-1 (semi final), and Italy 4-1 in the final. The goal scored by Carlos Alberto in the final is considered one of the best team goals of all time (see video below, first goal shown).
In proving themselves the best World Cup team ever, they beat the previous champions (England) as well as the European Champions (Italy) and the South American champions (Uruguay) during the tournament. Making victory even sweeter was their coach, Mário Zagallo, who was a player in the 1958 and 1962 winning teams. Jairzinho also set a record of scoring in every World Cup game.
Other World Cup Winning Teams
With the 10 teams above (and two double-winning teams) there were 9 World Cup winners who didn't make the cut. These are listed below with a brief explanation for their exclusion.
- Uruguay (1930) – Only 13 teams played in the 1930 World Cup and there was no qualification process.
- Uruguay (1950) – The 1950 World Cup was decided by a round-robin format. Furthermore, Uruguay caused an “upset” because they were not regarded as the best team.
- Germany (1954) – This was also an “upset” victory. Hungary were regarded as the best team.
- Argentina (1978) – Mario Kempes was their star player. They only advanced to the final on goal difference. They also delayed their match to see how many goals they needed.
- Argentina (1986) – A close one. They could not have won without Diego Maradona. They also won with the aid of cheating (the "Hand of God" goal).
- Germany (1990) – They were not as good as other German teams, and they scraped through all of their knockout matches.
- Brazil (1994) – They were not as good as other Brazil teams, and they also scraped through all of their knockout matches, winning the final on penalties.
- Italy (2006) – They had an easy route to the semi-finals, where they beat Germany after extra time, then France in the final on penalties.
- France (2018) – A close one. They were free scoring, but their 1998 team was better defensively.
Thank you for reading and watching this compilation of the greatest World Cup teams in football history.
What About the Best Players?
- The 10 Best World Cup Players in Football History
Ranking the greatest players in the history of the World Cup with the aid of statistics and videos.
© 2022 Thomas Swan