The best all-time player of each World Cup team playing in Qatar
Donning your country’s colours; walking onto the immaculate green pitch of your national stadium; scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final - those are things children dream of when kicking around a battered old football in the street.
The international stage is the pinnacle of footballing recognition, it’s an exclusive arena reserved for the best of the best; and, over time, the beautiful game’s greats have done special things for their countries.
As we look forward to the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, we’ve taken a look at each participating nation’s all-time greatest player…
1. Qatar - Mansour Muftah
Players like Hassan Al-Haydos and Mubarak Mustafa can stake their own claims to be called Qatar’s greatest ever footballer, but sensational goalscorer Mansour Muftah takes it here.
The striker tore it up in his home country’s top flight throughout his career, earning the Qatar Stars League golden boot seven times, and maintained a brilliant strike rate on the international stage.
Despite a premature international retirement in 1990 due to differences with then-head coach Dino Sani, Muftah remains his nation’s all-time top goalscorer with 42 goals in 81 caps.
2. Ecuador - Ivan Hurtado
No other South American has managed as many international matches as Ecuador’s highest cap-earner Ivan Hurtado, who has played more World Cup qualification games than any other player throughout history.
Over the course of his 168 appearances between 1992 and 2014, Hurtado established himself as a cult figure in Ecuadorian football and a leader in a golden era for the country.
He was a pivotal figure in getting the nation its maiden World Cup appearance in 2002 and, after becoming captain, was instrumental in leading the side to its first ever qualification to the knockout stages.
3. Senegal - Sadio Mane
Despite there being a ‘streets will never forget’-style list of cult figures in Senegalese football, there can only be one choice for the Lions’ all-time greatest.
Sadio Mane’s infectious work rate and awe-inspiring quality on the pitch are well recognised by fans all over the globe; an electric performer, his leadership and influence perforate not only through Senegalese football but also Senegalese society.
The forward became his nation’s all-time leading goalscorer in June and won’t take long to reach 100 caps, but it’s also his inspirational caritative ventures that make him a symbol of heroism in his homeland and beyond. A generous soul as well as a generational footballer, Mane takes the title of Senegal’s all-time best.
4. The Netherlands - Johan Cruyff
Well, this wasn’t easy. Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Arjen Robben - the list goes on… for a while.
Topping the list of world-class Dutch players to have donned the famous orange strip, however, has to be the enigmatic Johan Cruyff. In his 48 caps for Die Oranje, the legend and pioneer scored 33 goals and skippered his country to a World Cup runner-up finish in 1974 with one of the competition’s greatest individual campaigns.
There aren’t many ways to properly describe the three-time Ballon d’Or winner and do him justice, but the Netherlands’ all-time greatest footballer is probably one of them.
5. England - Bobby Charlton
There have been some truly sensational players to have worn the Three Lions on their chests over the years, but the great Bobby Charlton has to triumph over them all.
One of history’s finest, the Manchester United legend became an icon of our beautiful game wherever he played. The Red Devils’ second-all-time leading goalscorer, a winner of three First Division titles, part of the first English side to win a European Cup in 1968, a Ballon d’Or winner and, of course, part of the only England side that has been crowned World Champions - Sir Bobby Charlton takes this one.
6. Iran - Ali Daei
If it weren’t for Cristiano Ronaldo, Ali Daei would still be able to call himself the all-time leading goalscorer in international football. With his 109 goals in 149 international appearances, however, he’ll just have to settle for the title of Iran’s all-time greatest.
An Asian Footballer of the Year winner in 1999 and an Asian Football Hall of Fame inductee, Daei also captained his country more times than any other player, wearing the armband from 1998 until 2006.
7. United States - Landon Donovan
While Clint Dempsey might have something to say about it, Landon Donovan has to be regarded as the USMNT’s greatest ever player.
The two are joint-leading goalscorers for the country with 57 goals each, but the diminutive Donovan - whose tally of 157 caps is bettered only by Cobi Jones - was the symbol of US football over his memorable career, winning the country’s Player of the Year award four times.
The LA Galaxy star enjoyed a brilliant career on the international stage, particularly leaving the world in awe with a Young Player of the Tournament-winning campaign as his country reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002, as well as a memorable three-goal haul in South Africa in 2010.
8. Wales - Gareth Bale
You could quite easily flip a coin to decide this one, but we’ve gone for the electric Gareth Bale as Wales’ all-time greatest player.
A true world-beater and unstoppable force of nature in his prime, the Welshman’s exploits at club level have been more than matched by his leadership and talismanic brilliance on international duty.
The go-to man for his country during its most successful period (having reached the semi-final of a major tournament and qualified for a World Cup for the first time in 64 years in the space of six years), Bale is comfortably Wales’ all-time top goalscorer with 40 strikes in 108 appearances and, despite the downward trajectory of his club career in recent years, continues to dazzle for the Dragons.
9. Argentina - Lionel Messi
Presented with an almost impossible dilemma, we’ve opted to name Lionel Messi as Argentina’s greatest ever footballer over Diego Maradona. Intrinsically compared, the two geniuses are almost inseparable but, as the country’s leading cap-earner and goalscorer (and as a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner), the inimitable creator and delightfully elegant executioner takes it.
Having finally won a major tournament at international level with a Copa America triumph in 2021, Messi will now look to achieve what Maradona did in 1986 and captain Argentina to a World Cup crown - the only honour missing from his lengthy collection.
10. Saudi Arabia - Majed Abdullah
The man known as the Arabian Jewel was one of the most prolific strikers in world football throughout the course of his career.
Majed Abdullah, spent the entirety of his 22-year career playing for Saudi Premier League outfit Al-Nassr, scoring 259 goals in just 266 appearances for the club and finishing as the league’s top scorer six times, winning it four times. The heroic marksman also staggered on the international stage, scoring 72 goals in 140 caps for his nation.
11. Mexico - Hugo Sanchez
Beating the likes of Javier Hernandez, Jorge Campos and Rafael Marquez to this accolade has to be legendary striker Hugo Sanchez - the greatest number nine to have ever graced the game in the eyes of a lot of Mexican fans.
In fairness, the iconic striker was named the best CONCACAF player of the 20th century by the International Football Federation of History and Stats and boasts a stunning career. Alongside his 29 international goals in 58 caps, Sanchez netted 195 times in 264 appearances for Real Madrid and earned five La Liga golden boots.
12. Poland - Robert Lewandowski
There’s not much debate with this one - Robert Lewandowski is Poland’s greatest footballing product, having won countless individual awards and honours - including FIFA’s The Best Men’s Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021.
The inevitable striker is the personification of ruthlessness and has put opponents to the sword time after time throughout his career. His tally of 76 goals at international level is miles ahead of any other Pole to play for their country, and it doesn’t even compare to the numbers he hit for Bayern Munich over the best part of a decade.
13. France - Zinedine Zidane
You’ve got to be a very special player to beat the likes of three-time Ballon d’Or winner Michel Platini and France’s all-time leading goalscorer Thierry Henry to the title of Les Bleus’ greatest ever player. Well, ‘very special’ doesn’t even cover Zinedine Zidane.
Zizou was an elegant bulldozer and sparkling battering ram of a midfielder; pace, strength, grace, skill, class, efficiency - he had it all. He made football look like a dynamic, businesslike version of art.
A Ballon d’Or winner and world champion in 1998, the Frenchman finished his career with an ugly headbutt in a World Cup final but still remains in the beautiful game’s memory as a mesmerising magician with a ball at his feet.
14. Australia - Tim Cahill
He can top Australia’s all-time greatest list purely for that celebration; a celebration we saw often as he became a Premier League cult hero for his antics with Everton.
Tim Cahill was also a knockout for the Socceroos over his 14-year international career; his 108 caps are only bettered by fellow legend Mark Schwarzer, while no one else comes close to his half-century of goals for the Aussies.
15. Denmark - Christian Eriksen
There is a litany of sensational players to have pulled on the national jersey for Denmark. The likes of Peter Schmeichel and Michael Laudrup might have found their way onto many people’s list of the country’s all-timers but, for us, it has to be Christian Eriksen.
An understated giant for his nation, he’s been a pivotal influence as well as a glorious conductor for the side over the years and remains a stalwart even after suffering an on-field cardiac arrest while playing at Euro 2020.
Thankfully, the Manchester United midfielder is now strutting his stunning stuff once again.
16. Tunisia - Sadok Sassi
Tunisia’s greatest footballing product is a tough one to call, but goalkeeper Sadok Sassi, otherwise known as Attouga, is universally considered one of them.
A five-time Tunisian champion and eight-time Tunisian Cup winner, Attouga earned 87 caps over his 15-year spell with the national side and represented them at three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments but, despite being the country’s first-choice number one, missed their maiden World Cup appearance in 1978 through injury.
17. Spain - Andres Iniesta
There are so many players that have captured the hearts and imaginations of the footballing world wearing the red of Spain. Their best of all time, however, just has to be Andres Iniesta. 131 caps and the biggest goal of his country’s history have earned him that title, surely?
That extra-time winner against the Netherlands in 2010 earned Spain their first and only World Cup triumph and, apart from that, he was just stupidly good at football - were it not for Ronaldo and Messi, we’d definitely be talking about a multi-Ballon d’Or winner.
18. Costa Rica - Keylor Navas
It’s a rarity for goalkeepers to be considered their country’s all-time greatest footballer but, with Costa Rica, there’s really no doubt.
Keylor Navas has been a phenomenal shot-stopper throughout his career, becoming a domestic and European champion during his five-year stint with Real Madrid as well as developing into a national hero over his 107 caps.
An integral component of Costa Rica’s success in recent years, he was a particular stand-out as the nation achieved its best ever World Cup finish in 2014, reaching the quarter-finals in Brazil.
19. Germany - Franz Beckenbauer
It’s so cruel to ask someone to name Germany’s greatest ever footballer. The four-time World Cup-winning nation has had generation after generation of pure world-class talents come through its ranks.
At the risk of offending some of those born winners, our champion is two-time Ballon d’Or recipient Franz Beckenbauer - a personification of innovation in the game and the only man to skipper Die Mannschaft to both World Cup and European glory (oh, and a World Cup-winning gaffer, too).
20. Japan - Kunishige Kamamoto
Japan’s first true superstar, before the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Hidetoshi Nakata and Kazuyoshi Miura (who, yes, is still kicking a ball around in his homeland) came around was Kunishige Kamamoto.
A born goalscorer, the one-club man netted 262 times in 311 appearances for Yanmar Diesel in domestic football, while bagging a staggering 80 goals in 84 caps for Japan, winning the country’s Player of the Year award no fewer than seven times.
21. Belgium - Eden Hazard
This one is undoubtedly a tough debate and, although catalysts for future success such as the iconic Paul van Himst are often disregarded in conversations surrounding the Red Devils, we’ve looked at the golden generation and specifically Eden Hazard for their greatest ever player.
While his career has suffered a downward spiral since his move to Spain, the wicked winger is safely one of the best in Premier League history and, for the best part of a decade, was the one to hold the torch for his country’s other stars to follow.
22. Canada - Alphonso Davies
Although the Canadians have had very little to shout about on the football pitch for some time, their fans can be very excited about the future - and the fervent passion that’s boiling in Canada is undoubtedly fuelled in principle by young Alphonso Davies.
While the likes of Atiba Hutchinson have laid the foundations for The Maple Leafs to build upon, it’s 21-year-old Phonzy who's captured the imagination of the country’s previously hibernating footyheads. The Bayern Munich left-back is an attacking force for both club and country and is already a heroic figure in Canadian football.
23. Morocco - Ahmed Faras
Things aren’t looking bad for Moroccan football at the moment; you’d have to go back to the 1990s for the last time the country qualified for consecutive World Cup finals, and the side heads to Qatar having only just narrowly missed out on the Africa Cup of Nations final four earlier this year.
However, we’ve gone back to the 1970s to find their all-time greatest player. Ahmed Faras is the nation’s leading goalscorer with a haul of 36 goals - three of which came during the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations, Morocco’s only major tournament triumph.
24. Croatia - Luka Modric
One of only two players other than Messi and Ronaldo to win football’s highest individual honour since 2007, Luka Modric became the first Croatian to win the Ballon d’Or in 2018.
A legendary figure for Real Madrid, the catalytic midfielder has enjoyed a stunning career with Los Blancos since his transfer from Tottenham in 2012, winning 21 trophies for the club. His influence at international level has been just as great, guiding them to a World Cup runners-up finish in Russia four years ago.
25. Brazil - Pele
While Neymar is staking a serious claim, Pele just has to take the honour of Brazil’s greatest. Three of the country’s five triumphant World Cup campaigns were played and starred in by Pele, who remains the youngest player to feature and score in a World Cup final.
Pele might not be his nation’s all-time leading goalscorer for too much longer but the icon, who boasts 77 strikes in just 92 caps, will forever be idolised.
26. Serbia - Branislav Ivanovic
Putting Aleksandr Mitrovic down as Serbia’s greatest ever footballer is hugely tempting; the Fulham marksman has hit a sensational Serbian-high 50 goals in just 76 caps. However, despite the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Dejan Stankovic also having donned the country’s coulours, we’ve opted to name the ever-dependable, two-time Serbian Player of the Year Branislav Ivanovic as his nation’s number one all-timer.
No one has played as many games for Serbia as the former Chelsea man who, in his 105 caps, also netted 13 times. Ivanovic was also captain of his nation for five of his 13-year international career, playing his last game at the 2018 World Cup.
27. Switzerland - Josef Hugi
Switzerland’s greatest ever player whom few might have heard of is Josef Hugi, who pips the likes of all-time leading scorer Alexander Frei to the post.
Hugi, also a University of Basel graduate, was a natural-born finisher prominent in Swiss football throughout the 1950s and early ‘60s. The striker was a pivotal part of one of Switzerland’s most successful sides, scoring six goals as they reached the quarter-final stage for the second and last time in the 1954 World Cup.
28. Cameroon - Samuel Eto’o
Roger Milla takes the title for best hips in Cameroon’s history, but the country’s best ever footballer has to be four-time (yes, four) African Footballer of the Year winner Samuel Eto’o.
Only Rigobert Song boasts more appearances for Les Lions Indomptables, while no one matches Eto’o’s 56 goals. Over the 17 years he spent as an international, the legendary striker became the Africa Cup of Nation’s all-time top goalscorer and won the competitions twice on the bounce in 2000 and 2002, scoring five over those two editions.
29. Portugal - Cristiano Ronaldo
Regarded in some quarters as the greatest to ever kick a ball, Ronaldo is comfortably Portugal’s all-time best, having scored a world-record 117 international goals.
The mind-boggling five-time Ballon d’Or recipient holds a silly number of records for his country’s national side and defied the odds to skipper Portugal to its first ever major tournament success at Euro 2016; he’d shock the world even more should he tick the last box on his bucket list and captain the Portuguese to World Cup success this winter, however.
30. Ghana - Abedi Pele
One of Africa’s finest footballing products, Abedi Pele won the continent’s Player of the Year award three times.
Father to Andre and Jordan Ayew, Pele enjoyed a fantastic club career - winning the Champions League and Ligue 1 twice with Marseille - as well as international career, earning 73 caps and scoring 19 times for his country. The Ghanaian won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1982 before picking up his nation’s Player of the Year award 11 years later.
31. Uruguay - Luis Suarez
We could have dipped into two World Cup-winning generations for Uruguay’s greatest footballer but, despite the likes of Oscar Miguez and Pedro Petrone staking claims, we couldn’t look past Luis Suarez.
He’s famously used his hands and teeth on the international stage but it remains impossible to overlook the magic he delivers with his feet. His otherworldly ability has seen him earn 134 caps and net an unbelievable 68 goals for his nation, tallies he’ll be looking to extend at his final World Cup appearance later this year.
32. South Korea - Son Heung-min
A true superstar, six-time South Korean Footballer of the Year Son Heung-min has been right at the top of world football for a few years, showcasing his purely staggering quality and proving to be a more-than-regular goalscorer in the Premier League with 40 strikes in the last two full seasons.
Sitting on 104 caps for his country, Son needs just one more to break into the top ten, while his 35 South Korean goals put him fourth on the country’s all-time leading goalscorers list - he might be 30 already, but don’t bet against him scoring the 24 more he needs to top that list.