Whether you call it soccer or football, there is no denying that it is one of, if not the most, popular sports in the world. With over three billion fans worldwide, it consistently ranks as the most watched and played sport in the world. For many, it is the first sport we ever play, either casually or on a youth team. With so many different teams in various countries it’s hard to pick just a handful of the best players. However, there are a few whose names are so ingrained with the sport, that everyone knows who they are. They must be doing something different in South America because many of these soccer legends hail from the region. To honor these prolific players here is a list of the ten of the most famous soccer stars from South America.
1. TeÃƒ³filo Cubillas
TeÃƒ³filo Cubillas might not be the best known South American player, but he is undoubtedly the most famous Peruvian soccer player. Cubillas was dubbed ‘El Nene’ (the kid) for his baby face. He began his career at sixteen in 1966, playing for Alianza Lima, and retired in 1989 after playing for the Miami Sharks. He is one of only two players to have scored five goals in two separate FIFA World Cups. One of his greatest achievements was being elected as the South American Footballer of the Year in 1972. In 2004, he was added by PelÃƒ© to the FIFA 100 list, a list of the ‘greatest living footballers’.
2. Ã‚ RomÃƒ¡rio de Souza Faria
RomÃƒ¡rio de Souza Faria, better known as just RomÃƒ¡rio, is regarded as one of the most prolific strikers to have ever played soccer. His career spanned a few decades, beginning in 1985 and lasting until 2009. Romario was part of the 1988 Brazilian Olympic team that took home the silver medal. He was also part of the Brazilian squad that won the 1994 world cup. Although there is some controversy surrounding his achievement, he is one of very few strikers to surpass the mark 1000 goals. Although FIFA congratulated him on the accomplishment, their official count stops at 929 goals because the other goals came from youth football and friendly matches. RomÃƒ¡rio also holds a spot on the FIFA 100 list.
3. Alfredo Di StÃƒ©fano
Although he is known for playing for Spain, Alfredo Di StÃƒ©fano is included on the list because he hails from Argentina. Di StÃƒ©fano is often considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time. He is mostly associated with Real Madrid for being instrumental in their five consecutive streak win of the European Champions’ Cup during the 1950s. Di StÃƒ©fano is Real Madrid’s second highest league scorer of all time, with 216 goals. Despite being regarded as the most complete soccer player by his peers, Di StÃƒ©fano never made it to a World Cup. He missed out on two opportunities to play for Argentina and after gaining Spanish citizenship injured himself before the finals in 1962.
4. Ã‚ IvÃƒ¡n Zamorano
Chile’s most recognized soccer player is IvÃƒ¡n Zamorano. He began his career in 1983 and retired in 2003. Zamorano most notable clubs were the Spanish Sevilla and Real Madrid. He played in the 1998 World Cup, but Chile did not win. However, he was part of the 2000 Olympic team that received the bronze medal. Zamorano was the top scorer of the match with six goals. Zamorano also made PelÃƒ©’s FIFA 100 list.
5. RenÃƒ© Higuita
RenÃƒ© Higuita is probably the most interesting soccer player on this list. He was a goalkeeper from Colombia who played from 1985 to 2010. Higuita was nicknamed ‘El Loco’ (‘The Madman’) because of his eccentric style of goalkeeping. He was well known for taking unnecessary risks and also for trying to score goals. Higuita is probably best known for creating the famous scorpion kick. At the 1990 World Cup, FIFA issued a new rule that was influenced by Higuita’s unique playing style. The rule prohibited a goalkeeper from touching the ball with his hands if his teammates passed him the ball. Ã‚ He is currently ranked the 4th highest goal scoring goalkeeper of all time.
6. Arthur Coimbra
Another well-known soccer player from Brazil is Arthur Coimbra, better known as Zico. Zico is often called the ‘white PelÃƒ©’. He is considered one of the most talented finishers and one of the best passers to ever play. Zico is notable for being the best player to have never won a World Cup. He did play in the 1978, 1982, and 1986 World Cups. PelÃƒ© is noted as saying that Zico was the one player who ever came closest to topping him as the best. Zico also had a prolific career in Japan. He helped build the Kashima Antlers from the ground up and is known as the ‘God of soccer’ in Japan.
7. Manuel Francisco dos Santos
Perhaps the most tragic, yet well-loved player on this list is Manuel Francisco dos Santos, commonly known as Garrincha. His career began in 1953 and ended in 1972. He was immensely popular in Brazil and was known as the ‘Alegria do Povo’ (Joy of the People). Garrincha is considered the best dribbler in soccer history. Despite his successful soccer career, Garrincha had a troubled personal life. He was a heavy drinker and died in 1983 from cirrhosis of the liver in an alcoholic coma. Despite having become a forgotten hero before his death, thousands of fans and fellow players showed their love for him during his funeral procession. A multi-use stadium in Brasilia is named after him.
8. Ã‚ Ronaldo
Ronaldo, ‘The Phenomenon’, is another renowned Brazilian soccer player. He has won many accolades including being one of only three men to win FIFA Player of the Year three times. Ronaldo became the highest goal scorer in the history of the World Cup in 2006, taking the title with his 15th goal. Despite his promising career, Ronaldo retired early in 2011 due to numerous serious injuries. He co-owns A1 Team Brazil and is set to become President of Brazil Soccer Federation in 2014.
9. Diego Maradona
Contending with PelÃƒ© for the top spot as the greatest soccer player of all time is Diego Mardona. Mardona was part of the team that won the 1986 World Cup and is famous for the unpenalized handball goal, known as the ‘Hand of God’, against England in the quarterfinals. He is noted as being a controversial and newsworthy player. Mardona was suspended for 15 months in 1991 after failing a drug test and was also sent home from the 1994 World Cup for the same reason. In spite of all the controversy, the Argentine player jointly shares the title of FIFA player of the 20th Century with PelÃƒ© and is well liked by fans.
PelÃƒ© is hands down the most famous and beloved soccer player, not only in South America, but in the entire world. As the son of the great soccer player Dondinho, PelÃƒ© was poised for greatness. He began playing at 15 and won his first World Cup at 17. PelÃƒ© had a rich career, scoring a total of 1281 goals in 1363 games. He was voted athlete of the century by the International Olympic Committee in 1999. PelÃƒ© is the only soccer player to have been a part of three World Cup winning teams. He won in 1958, 1962, and 1970. His status as the best soccer player of all time has earned him the nickname ‘The King’. PelÃƒ© officially retired in 1977, but remains a worldwide ambassador for soccer.
Even if you aren’t the biggest soccer fan, there is no denying how great all of these players’ achievements are. All of their amazing feats have helped to cement them in the world of soccer and some are even responsible for shaping the game. Without a doubt, these legends are part of the reason why soccer is the world’s most beloved game.