There is no greater honor in sport, in my opinion, than winning a title with your country. Representing a nation of up to millions of people, the pressure is like no other. The world is watching you on the grandest stage, the only way to come out happy, is as a winner. From Africa to Europe, South America to the World, there are various international pieces of silverware to be contested, here’s a Perfect XI of those who have lifted one.
(This will be including those from 2000 onwards, yes that means there won’t be an Englishman selected, don’t blame me, blame Steve McClaren)
A man about to figure in his 1,000th football match, he is a great of the game and a deserved World Cup winner. A leader, inspired shot-stopper and a respected face for Italian football. An icon for club Juventus, he was vital in the Azzuri’s first World title in 24 years.
Transforming the role of full-back, captain of the 2002 World Cup winning Brazil team, Cafu is one of the game’s best. As effective going forward, as he was defending, he added vital experience and reliability to a questionable backline.
Dropped as captain in qualification, Phil Scolari took over and due to Emerson’s injury, he regained the armband and lifted the trophy in Yokohama.
The only defender to win FIFA World Player of the Year, this exemplifies the qualities of the Italian stallion. Captain as Italy triumphed in Germany in 2006 to become World champions, he performed exceptionally in the latter stages particularly.
A charming smile off the pitch, on the pitch he was a rock. Brave in a tackle and strong on the ground and aerially, an inspiration to any young centre half.
There may be no greater defender in Spain’s history. Skipper of the tightest and winning defence at Euro 2008. He scored the only goal in their World Cup semi-final two years later and lifted a title once more, this time Espana’s first ever World Cup.
A key part of that all-conquering national group, Spain have looked much worse without the curly-haired centre back. Old school, he’d make any partner look good next to him.
One of the most underrated players of his generation, almost too versatile to actually clarify his best position. A consistent performer for club and country, I don’t think I’ve seen him have a bad game.
Best known though as a full-back, he captained Germany to their first world title as unified nation in 2014. Retiring after the tournament, it’s been tough finding a suitable replacement at left back since, a world class player.
Taking over the armband from someone like Didier Drogba is a tough ask for any footballer, but for Yaya Toure it’s no problem. As confident as any footballer imaginable, Toure took over as Ivory Coast’s star man.
On his day, an unstoppable box-to-box midfielder with ridiculous power. He captained Côte d’Ivoire to their first AFCON title since 1992, with a penalty shoot-out win over Ghana in 2015. African Player of the Year five years in a row (2011-2015), one of the continent’s figureheads.
If you ever see someone celebrate by punching the corner flag, it’s because of Tim Cahill. A fan favorite across the world, he’s Australia’s greatest ever footballer. His volley against Holland in the 2014 World Cup may be one of the best goals to be scored at an International tournament, but that’s not why he’s made the Perfect XI.
The Aussies entered their third consecutive AFC Asian Cup in 2015 and won it for the first time, beating South Korea. If any man is representing them in the Perfect XI, it’s the aerial powerhouse that is Cahill.
More infamous for his role in the international final he didn’t win, in 2006, Zizou was a European Champion in 2000. Player of the tournament and scorer of the Golden Goal that took Les Bleus to the final, he’s one of France’s most renowned sporting greats.
His international career was somewhat tarnished with his head-butt in 06, but his class, magical feet and incredible knack for scoring vital goals is no question.
Stepping up in a Copa America final penalty shoot-out, he knew if he scored he’d win his beloved country their first national glory. With that amount of pressure, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d miss, but Sanchez chipped the ball into the back of the net.
Player of the tournament as Chile retained their crown in 2016, Sanchez is Chile’s talisman. Agile, electric and the definition of hard-working, he’s forever a hero back in his native South American home.
Credit EHC for the video
Before you judge me, here’s some reason. Prior to Euro 2004, Greece had qualified for two major tournaments and won a total of zero games at both. They arrived in Portugal and immediately beat the hosts in their own back-yard. They toppled defending champions France before beating the only 100% record side at the tournament in the semi-finals.
Already performing better than they have done at any major tournament, they faced hosts Portugal again. Angelos Charisteas scored in their victory over France. The big striker went one better, notching the winner in one of football’s greatest ever upsets. Seems justification for the Perfect XI, right?
Giovani Dos Santos
The Mexican winger hasn’t really fulfilled his potential that was seen as a youngster at Spurs at club level. Yet, on the international stage he’s thrived. In 2009, he was named Player of the Tournament as they ended a 10 year drought for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, defeating USA 5-0 on American soil.
He topped that, scoring an incredible chip in a 4-2 victory, again against USA in 2011. One of his countries best, Dos Santos was a member of the squad as they secured a record sixth CONCACAF Gold Cup. Skillful and quick, it’s a wonder why he’s over in the MLS.
It’s an International Champions XI with a twist. Yes, it’s not the best but it’s perfect in different ways. It represents different continental and the world titles, history makers and iconic players. Stay tuned for the next Perfect XI.