Messi, Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, Iniesta: Who is the best player ever from the world’s top 20 nations?

Next year’s World Cup in Qatar is likely to represent the last opportunity for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to get their hands on the prestigious trophy.

What both players have achieved in the game is nothing short of extraordinary, but failure to land a World Cup win will always be used against them in the GOAT debate.

It won’t be easy, though. Defending champions France will once again bring an incredible squad to the tournament, Italy are revived under Roberto Mancini and Belgium are the number one team in the world rankings.

However, if Messi can get his hands on the trophy, it will surely confirm his status as Argentina’s greatest ever player.

It’s a heavily contested debate between the Paris Saint-Germain star and Diego Maradona, who inspired Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986.


For other countries, it’s a lot easier to decide their greatest ever talent.

Is anyone not putting Ronaldo as Portugal’s No.1?

It’s got us thinking about the best ever players from some other nations, and we’ve decided to look at the top 20 in FIFA’s current world rankings (last updated on October 21, 2021).

Who is their greatest product? We’ve considered their club and national careers and come up with answers.

1. Belgium | Kevin De Bruyne

Peak Eden Hazard was out of this world but De Bruyne’s consistency as an elite player makes him our choice for Belgium’s No.1

Whether or not the Red Devils go all the way in Qatar depends largely on the fitness of the Manchester City ace, who has battled injuries in recent years.


2. Brazil | Pele

Pele delivered three World Cups for Brazil.

Ronaldinho would win a popularity competition but it’s hard to ignore a player who scored more than 1,000 career goals.

3. France | Zinedine Zidane

Zidane’s international career ended in infamy, but that doesn’t overshadow what he achieved for his country.

Zizou helped France win the World Cup in 1998 by scoring two goals in the final against Brazil. Two years later, he helped Les Bleus win Euro 2000.

Throw in a Champions League trophy and the 1998 Ballon d’Or and he’s an easy choice.

4. Italy | Paolo Maldini

Maldini is widely considered to be one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game, and with good reason.

The Italian won seven league titles and five European Cups/Champions Leagues with AC Milan.

An international trophy eluded Maldini but that wasn’t on him.

5. England | Sir Bobby Charlton

Part of the only England team to ever win the World Cup, Charlton netted 49 goals in 106 appearances for his country.

He won the Ballon d’Or after the 1966 success and also won three First Division titles with Manchester United.

6. Argentina | Lionel Messi

We’ve gone with Messi ahead of Maradona.

No player has won more Ballons d’Or than the PSG ace and his success with Argentina at the 2021 Copa America was the only thing he needed to add to his incredible resume.

7. Spain | Andres Iniesta

Iniesta was at the heart of Spain and Barcelona’s dominance around the turn of 2010.

He was an incredibly silky player, winning six Champions Leagues and the World Cup, and is arguably the finest player never to win the Ballon d’Or.


8. Portugal | Cristiano Ronaldo

The leading goalscorer in international history, Ronaldo‘s record speaks for itself.

At the time of writing he has 115 goals for his country and nearly 800 across the course of his career.

9. Mexico | Hugo Sanchez

Sanchez played as a striker and his record of 164 goals in 207 league games for Real Madrid is incredible.

Indeed, he’s still the fourth-highest goalscorer in La Liga history.

10. Denmark | Michael Laudrup

“And for me, in history, I don’t know any better passer than Michael Laudrup, simple as that.”

Those are the words of Thierry Henry, who idolised the former Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid player.

Laudrup enjoyed a successful club career and was also a two-time Danish Player of the Year.

The fact that he was named Denmark’s Best Player of All Time in 2006 proves our point.

11. Netherlands | Johan Cruyff

Even Marco van Basten and Ronald Koeman would have no complains about us putting Cruyff at No.1.

He was an exceptional player who left a lasting legacy on the game thanks to his influence both as a player and a manager.


12. Germany | Franz Beckenbauer

The origins of the sweeper role rest firmly at Beckenbauer’s feet.

Across his storied career, the Bayern Munich legend won five Bundesliga titles, three European Cups, the World Cup and two Ballons d’Or.

13. USA | Landon Donovan

Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna are proof that the USA are producing some fine players right now.

They’ll all be trying to emulate Donovan, a true legend of the game in the US.

He won six MLS Cups and was a four-time winner of the US Soccer Athlete of the Year award.

14. Switzerland | Stephane Chapuisat

Chapuisat played more than 100 times for his country and was voted Swiss Footballer of the Year on four occasions.

15. Uruguay | Luis Suarez

He’s a bit controversial, but Suarez is without doubt one of the best strikers in the 21st century.

The way in which he proved Barcelona were wrong to let him by winning the Spanish title with Atletico Madrid – the fifth La Liga success of his career – was class.

16. Colombia | Carlos Valderrama

Valderrama was some player, being named in World Soccer’s 1999 list of the 100 Greatest Footballers of All Time.

He represented Colombia 111 times and enjoyed a fine club career that took him to France, Spain and USA.

17. Sweden | Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic would put himself as Sweden’s greatest ever player and who are we to argue?

He’s won league titles in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France, scoring more than 500 club goals.


18. Croatia | Luka Modric

Modric showed how important he is to Croatia when he inspired them to the 2018 World Cup final.

The player to finally end Messi and Ronaldo’s duopoly by winning the Ballon d’Or that year, Modric has been a serial winner since joining Real Madrid.

19. Wales | Gareth Bale

Some players are able to carry their teams to another level and Bale is one of them for Wales.

He’s enjoyed some quality moments for his country, including helping Wales reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016, and has won four Champions League trophies with Real Madrid as well.

20. Senegal | Sadio Mane

Mane would love to win a trophy with his country.

He’s developed that winning feeling at Liverpool as part of the side that won the Champions League in 2019 and Premier League a year later.

Mane has scored more than 100 goals for the Reds, where he’s turned into one of the world’s best forwards.


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