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Matches between national teams have been the pinnacle of soccer. This is where the best players come together and test themselves against others. Whether it is a friendly, competitive match or part of the tournament, playing for your own country is an honor and privilege. With the reputation of a soccer nation on the line. What determines the greatness of a national team? How many tournaments won, longest undefeated streaks, or rankings? That is what this article is aiming to look at. The best of national teams and what makes them be above everyone else.
Determining the Best Soccer Nations
Spoiler alert, this list consists of European and South American countries, as no other soccer country has won the World Cup. There are only two occasions where non-EURO/South American teams made it into the top four of the World Cup. The USA was third in the 1930 edition and South Korea fourth in 2002, though the latter result is dubious. Thus, it does not make sense to include any country outside these two continents. They are far ahead of others. There is no question about it. But, how to determine which soccer nations are the best out there?
I’ll explain why these countries deserve such spots on the top list. It comes down to several factors, which I will explain under a particular nation. The basics to consider are the following:
- Continental and global tournament success
- with the tournament strength as a focus
- and how recent their success is
- Consistency of the team, maintaining a high level of play throughout the years
- To a lesser extent, Olympic success
- The importance of their down periods
These components give a well-rounded argument for their success and the historical triumphs. As it should, soccer museums dedicated to national teams show their glory (and low points). Before going any further, let’s make things more simple. I refer to countries as national soccer teams.
Top Soccer Nations
So, looking at all factors here’s my pick for the five best soccer nations in the world.
- Nicknames: La Furia Roja, La Roja
- 1x World Cup, 3x EURO titles, 1x Olympic gold
When it comes to putting Spain over countries like France and Uruguay, some questions can arise. But there are arguments supporting this case, why Spain deserves the spot in the top 5. A lot of it has to do with their historic run from 2008 to 2012. First, they claimed their first EURO title since 1964. Two years later won the World Cup and defended their EURO crown in 2012. Spain was the first European soccer nation to complete this hat-trick. They were labeled one of the best soccer teams in history. With their ruthless tika-taka passing style, controlling the ball and the opponent. That uncompromising style of play helped Spainards go on a 35-game undefeated streak.
Yet, from the 2000s to the early 2010s is also the only glorious time they can remember fondly. Exceptions being the EURO 1964 win and reaching the final at EURO 1984. Spain did not even qualify for the EURO 1968 as reigning champions. Instead, their next appearance at EURO was in 1980. Even if Spain reached the final tournament, they did not make out of the group stage on more than one occasion. In other cases, they lost in the first or second knockout round in both the EURO and World Cup. Constant underperforming earned them the nickname “underachievers”. Constant underperformance does not allow me to put any higher than a fifth. Which is still great if you ask me.
- Nickname: Azzurri
- 4x World Cups, 2x EURO titles, 1x Olympic gold
Four World Cups and reigning European champions are the keywords here. Italy has been very successful throughout the 20th century. They also are one of the two national soccer teams to successfully defend their World Cup crown. After that, they entered a lengthy 44-year-long drought of World Cup glory until its 1982 victory over West Germany in the final. Some solace gave the Azzurri their first EURO trophy in 1968. They are almost always contenders for the titles and show the viewers and fans why Italian defense is worth its reputation. After winning their fourth World Cup title in 2006, many started speculating about catching Brazil. Though having a down period in the late 2000s, they rebounded and reached the EURO 2012 finals. In 2021, they finally made the seventh heaven glory of winning EURO 2020. Italian national soccer team proved once again to be elite. They also won single Olympic gold in 1936.
Yet, Italians are also very susceptible to “hangovers” caused by their successes. That is especially clear in the 21st century. First, they crashed out in the group stage of EURO 2004, after making it to the final in 2000. Then, after winning World Cup number four, Italy entered into a recession. In 2008, they were a mediocre team and had disappointing performances. Though they reached the quarter-final stage at EURO 2008, they lost to Spain. But it was surprising to see the match go to the penalty shoot-out. Two years later, in 2010, Azzurri’s World Cup defense was a catastrophe. Two draws and a loss resulted in the last-place finish in Group F. Even more embarrassing is their two straight misses from the World Cup. The second one was an ugly moment for them as North Macedonia defeated them in the playoff semifinal. Regardless, Italy is one of the best national soccer teams out there.
- Nickname: La Selección
- 2x World Cups, 15x Copa America winners, 2x Olympic golds
Why would one put Argentina ahead of Spain? Although, there are arguments that support my opinion. Sure, two World Cups are not four, but one key reason is their Copa America success. They have won the competition record-equalling 15 times. In my opinion, Copa America is not far behind the EURO. Not only that, Argentines have been participants in a lot of finals. On 29 occasions in Copa America and six in the World Cups. Which only shows its very high level of consistency throughout its history. La Selección is the team to beat, a near-impossible task in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. That is the period that I consider a golden age for their soccer. After, their squad took a backtrack, but Argentina remained a solid soccer team. But, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic golds gave the fans hope. Rightly so, since La Selección reached the 2014 World Cup final. Also, Argentina won Copa America for the first time since 1993. The latest triumph solidified their status among the very best soccer teams.
Being of the best soccer nations in the world, why then third? Here are a few key reasons. First is Germany. After winning the 1986 World Cup by defeating the Germans 3-2 but losing the rematch four years later, they started to lose form. The second reason is Copa America down years. After winning their 14th trophy, Argentina did not make it into the top four until 2004. They managed four more final appearances in 2004, 2007, 2015, and 2016 but lost them twice to Brazil and Chile. Loss in 2016 was La Selección’s third straight loss in the major finals.
- Nicknames: Nationalelf, DFB-Elf, Die Mannschaft
- 4x World Cups (three as West Germany), 3x EURO titles (two as West Germany), 1x Olympic gold (as East Germany)
There is debate over top soccer rankings if Germany should be number one instead. But in the end, most of them put them at number two. I also think that the Germans are the number two soccer nation, regardless of their storied historical success. Yet that success and a very high level of consistency are why Germans get the number two spot in the first place. They appeared in eight World Cup finals, including three straight between 1982 and 1990. By using half of the chances given in the finals in the face of winning four World Cups, it ties them with Italy. With 19 appearances in World Cups, it’s second-most, behind Brazil. One of these “misses” was because of a ban on Germany from entering the competition. The same applies to the EUROs when it comes to great performances. Three consecutive final appearances from 1972 to 1980, winning two, is very impressive. As is their resume, but they still fall short of the top soccer nation spot. Why?
There are not many bad things about the German national soccer team. If anything, then sometimes they have failed to live up to expectations. For example, missing the knockout stage in EURO 2000 as defending champions. They repeated the “feat” in the 2018 World Cup, failing to pass through the group stage for the first time since 1938. Yet, since this is Germany I am talking about, their failure to progress makes big headlines for the media and the fans. Another example is EURO 1992. Though they reached the final, which is nothing to sneeze at, they lost to Denmark. That was shocking for European soccer fans, as the Danes did not qualify at first. In the end, they are a top soccer country, but not quite at the summit.
- Nickname: Seleção
- 5x World Cups, 9x Copa America winners, 2x Olympic golds
What country has the best soccer (national) team in the world? Of course, it is Brazil. There are a lot of reasons. For starters, they have won an unmatched five World Cups. Brazil also has appeared in every edition of the competition. Though having a slow start, then from 1958 to 1970 they dominated by winning three World Cups. Adding titles no four and five in 1994 and 2002 only confirmed their status as the best soccer nation. They also appeared in the 1998 World Cup final but lost to France. Yet, Brazilians aren’t that successful in Copa America (nine titles, which is third-most). Their arch-rivals, Argentina, have a significant role in this. They still had almost all that every top soccer nation wanted. Major tournament titles, nearly seven years (1994-2001) of no 1. In FIFA rankings and unique style of fun samba soccer. Once Brazil finally won its first Olympic gold in 2016 against Germany, they finally got the triumph missing from their illustrious history. They have it all.
If they have any soft spot or historical weakness, then it’s Argentina. Brazil has a 2-9 record against them in the Copa America finals. Second, are the devastating losses. The 1950 World Cup loss against Uruguay and 1-7 against Germany in the 2014 semifinal were both disasters. And third is the struggles against France during World Cups. The most notable ones are from 1998 (lost in the final) and 2006 (lost in the quarter-final). Also, their World Cup droughts are noticeable. But this does not change that Brazil has the best soccer team.
First, a few mentions of others, who could have made it into this top five soccer countries list, but did not:
- France: this was a close call between them and Spain. But I went with the latter because the French has a poor result as reigning champions in the World Cup and EURO.
- Uruguay: two World Cups (they say four) and 15 Copa America titles are impressive. Yet, most of these trophies and successes came in the first half of the 20th century.
- England: the mother of soccer does have one World Cup, but not a single EURO title.
There it is. That is my choice of the best soccer nations globally and a detailed explanation. Answering why this team got that particular place on the list. Some countries can be debatable which one should be on the list. But Germany and Brazil are the best soccer nations in the world. There is no question about it.