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Ranked! The 10 best Brazilian players ever

Ronaldinho celebrates, The 10 best Brazilian players ever
(Image credit: Getty)

Who are the best Brazilian players ever? 

It's not an easy question to answer, given the staggering array of talents the South American country has produced over the years. 

But we've given it our best shot. The following ten players helped Brazil carve out its reputation as the spiritual home of the Beautiful Game by achieving huge success in style. 

Best Brazilian players ever: 10. Kaka

Kaka Brazil

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The €8.5m AC Milan splashed out on Kaka in 2003 proved to be one of the bargains of the century, as the Brazilian wizard went on to light up San Siro, winning the 2007 Ballon d’Or after firing the Italians to Champions League glory.

Kaka’s blend of physical and technical prowess made him an almost unstoppable prospect in his prime, but it was a shame that knee injuries later caused problems, especially during a disappointing spell at Real Madrid.  

9. Jairzinho

Jairzinho Brazil

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 You’ve got to be good to get a nickname like ‘The Hurricane’. 

Jairzinho was one of the biggest stars of Brazil’s World Cup-winning side of 1970, a tournament where he became the only player to win international football’s biggest prize while scoring in every game – a record that remains to this day.

The devastatingly quick and clinical forward formed a lethal front line with Pele and Tostao, but England fans of a certain vintage might not remember him too fondly, thanks to his wonderful goal that knocked the then-world champions out.

8. Socrates

Socrates Brazil

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Socrates was captain of Brazil’s star-studded team of the 1980s, and a man who made the no-look backheel pass his signature move.

Sporting his distinctive beard and headband combo, the qualified doctor was an elegant player and fine reader of the game who also had a big impact off the pitch, co-founding the Corinthians Democracy movement in opposition to Brazil’s military government. 

7. Zico

Zico

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Billed as the new Pele at his breakthrough in the early ‘80s, Zico is often regarded as the greatest Brazilian never to win the World Cup.

He scored an astonishing 333 goals at the Maracana Stadium alone, taking Flamengo to four league titles, the Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup, humiliating Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool with a 3-0 win in the latter in 1981.

6. Rivaldo

Rivaldo Brazil

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Rivaldo scored arguably the greatest hat-trick ever (a treble against Valencia in 2001 that concluded with an overhead kick from the edge of the box), while he also starred alongside Ronaldinho and Ronaldo in possibly the classiest front three of all time as Brazil won the 2002 World Cup. 

He could do it all – bending free-kicks, long-range piledrivers, quick changes of direction, and the forward won the 1999 Ballon d’Or after leading Barcelona to the La Liga title and Brazil to Copa America glory.

5. Romario

Romario Brazil

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A clinical, ice-cool finisher boasting superb ball control, Romario’s record of 55 goals in 70 Brazil caps is only behind Pele, Ronaldo and Neymar in the all-time rankings.

The highlight of his international career came at USA ’94, where he was named Player of the Tournament after scoring five goals, while he picked up league titles at Vasco da Gama, PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona.

4. Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho Brazil

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The smiling magician was one of the most natural entertainers ever to play the game. 

Ronaldinho's quickness of thought and execution, not to mention the dazzling box of tricks he could use to find his way past opponents, made him a must-watch attraction in his own right.

A World Cup winner in 2002, Ronaldinho then scored an astonishing 50 goals in two seasons from an attacking midfield role while at Barcelona to help the Catalan club win the Champions League, and himself a Ballon d’Or in 2005.

3. Garrincha

Garrincha

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Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano once claimed that "in the entire history of football no one made more people happy” than Garrincha. 

The Brazlian great was born with a crooked spine and uneven legs, giving him the nickname the ‘Bent-Legged Angel’, but it never showed on the football pitch as he made a fool of defenders for fun with his dazzling dribbling ability.

Garrincha starred in the Selecao’s 1958 World Cup win, before almost single-handedly dragging his country to a successful title defence four years later in the absence of the injured Pele.

2. Ronaldo

Ronaldo

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'O Fenomeno' didn’t take long to make his name known around the world. He claimed his first FIFA World Player of the Year title aged 20 in 1996, two years after being an unused member of Brazil’s World Cup-winning side in the USA, and went on to claim two Ballon d’Ors and become the World Cup’s top scorer – until he was surpassed by Miroslav Klose in 2014.

The explosive striker scored 420 goals during his career, dazzling crowds at Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid and winning two World Cup Golden Boots, falling just short to France in 1998 before triumphing four years later. Were it not for the injury problems that plagued his career, his tally would’ve been even greater.

1. Pele

Pele

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Aged just 17, Pele scored six times at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. 

He was the youngest player ever to score in a final, netting a brace to clinch victory for Brazil over the hosts, and went on to win international football’s biggest prize another two times, in 1962 and 1970 – something that hasn’t been achieved before or since.

At club level, Pele spearheaded a golden era for Santos, where they won two Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup titles in a row in 1962 and 1963, and by the time he hung up his boots, the striker had 1,279 goals to his name. 

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