Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar: International football’s greatest XI from the 21st century

Picking the greatest XI based solely on players’ exploits in international football this century is a mighty tough task for anyone.

But we here at GIVEMESPORT are always up for a challenge and have decided to have a go at naming our star-studded 11-man lineup.

A couple of bold calls have been made, so we’ll just apologise in advance for any offence caused.

Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at our XI…

GK | Iker Casillas (Spain)

We were initially going to opt for Manuel Neuer between the posts, but Casillas’ achievements for Spain since the turn of the millennium simply could not be ignored. The Real Madrid legend was a key figure in the Spain teams that won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. He also kept 102 clean sheets in his 168 games for La Roja, a record that’s borderline ridiculous.

Casillas with Spain

RB | Phillipp Lahm (Germany)

How could we leave out Mr. Consistent, eh? For 10 years, Lahm was world-class for Germany and his supreme footballing intelligence, combined with top-quality leadership, was a major reason why Die Mannschaft triumphed at the 2014 World Cup. Lahm was perhaps not as eye-catching as someone like Dani Alves, but was just as effective – if not more so.

Lahm with Germany

CB | Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)

When a defender wins the Ballon d’Or thanks to their pragmatic masterclasses on the international stage, you know they’re an all-time great. Cannavaro’s 2006 World Cup campaign may never be equalled by another defender and it’s why the centre-back simply has to feature in any XI of this nature.

Cannavaro with Italy

CB | Sergio Ramos (Spain)

Like Casillas, Ramos has three major tournament triumphs under his belt and has also scored international goals for fun (well, by a defender’s standards). The Paris Saint-Germain man has found the back of the net 23 times in his 180 appearances, a total that most midfielders and wingers would be proud of.

Ramos with Spain

LB | Ashley Cole (England)

Okay, this is the first slightly controversial call, as Cole never even reached the semi-final stage at a major tournament with England. But while that’s the case, the former Chelsea and Arsenal full-back was the only member of the fabled ‘Golden Generation’ who actually replicated his performances at club level for the Three Lions on a regular basis. So that’s why Ashley gets the nod here.

Cole with England

CM | Xavi Hernandez (Spain)

This one was very, very easy. Another member of Spain’s famous ‘three-peat’ squad, Xavi made international football look like a walk in the park at times. His individual campaign at the 2010 World Cup will forever be remembered as one of the greatest by a midfielder on the biggest sporting of all and you check out the new Barcelona manager’s highlights from that tournament HERE.

Xavi with Spain

CM | Andres Iniesta (Spain)

Xavi’s selection was easy and this one was even simpler. Iniesta is a bonafide legend of international football, the universally-adored icon being named in the ‘Team of the Tournament’ at Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. He also scored the winner in the World Cup final and was named Man of the Match in both that game and the finale of Euro 2012. There aren’t enough superlatives to adequately describe Iniesta’s Spain career to be honest.

Iniesta with Spain

CM | Michael Ballack (Germany)

No Zinedine Zidane? That’s right, but let us explain our bold call. Ballack’s record for Germany is criminally underrated and it feels like not many average football fans are aware that he scored an astonishing 42 (yes, FORTY-TWO) goals in 98 games from midfield. That is outrageous and as well as that record, Ballack was named in Team of the Tournament at the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. Now can you understand why we’ve opted for him over Zidane?

Ballack with Germany

RW | Lionel Messi (Argentina)

The leading goalscorer in men’s international football from South American nations and a newly-crowned Copa America champion, Messi has been nothing short of incredible for Argentina. If he can add a World Cup winner medal to his collection out in Qatar next winter, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner may finally move ahead of Diego Maradona in the eyes of most Argentines.

Messi with Argentina

ST | Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Arguably the greatest player in the history of men’s international football. Ronaldo won both Euro 2016 and the inaugural UEFA Nations League, but it’s his goalscoring record that sets him apart from everyone else. At the time of writing, the Manchester United superstar has found the back of the net 115 times for Portugal, a total that may not be equalled in the remainder of the 21st century.

Ronaldo with Portugal

LW | Neymar (Brazil)

While Neymar is yet to hold an international trophy aloft, his numbers for Brazil are utterly obscene. The fleet-footed winger has made 115 appearances for the South American nation and in that time, he’s netted 70 goals and assisted a further 51. More contributions than games played? That’s virtually unheard of in the modern era, with even Ronaldo and Messi unable to achieve that.

Neymar with Brazil

The full XI

The full XI

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