Writing an article comparing teams from different sports isn’t easy. It’s extremely subjective, and does (whether I want to admit it or not) depend on my knowledge and passion for the sport being written about. For example, I know far more about hockey and soccer than I do basketball. After acknowledging this, I decided that the most difficult international tournaments to win, the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup of Soccer, and the UEFA European Soccer Championship would carry the most weight on this list. These are the tournaments where the world’s top athletes play for their countries to see who ultimately reigns supreme. There are plenty of great international teams that came before the twenty year window I’ve decided upon, but none of which I’ve witnessed first hand. That is why I’ve limited the time frame to the past twenty years; I’ve seen all of these teams in action, and witnessed their dominance over their global counterparts. Here are the top international teams by country and by sport of the past twenty years.
5 United States Men’s Basketball 1996-2012
The ‘Dream Team.’ The United States men’s basketball team is an obvious choice for this list. To some, they’re probably too low in the ranking, but of all the sports represented on this list, the U.S. is by far the most dominant globally in the sport of basketball. The NBA is the best basketball league in the world and is almost exclusively made up of American-born players. So when you take the best players from the best league that happens to be comprised almost entirely of Americans, the competition from other countries shouldn’t be that difficult. If the FIBA World Cup were any indication, one might wonder if the U.S. was as powerful on the court as it should be, with only two titles in twenty years, however, that tournament takes place before the NBA pre-season and many top-tier players opt out.
4 Canadian Women’s Hockey 2002-2014
3 French Men’s Soccer 1998-2006
2 Canadian Men’s Hockey 2002-2014
Obvious I suppose. With the Olympic hockey tournament still fresh in mind, and being a Canadian and a hockey fan it’s easy to cry foul at the placement of Team Canada on this list, especially in light of their failure to capture a medal in both Nagano in 1998 and Turin in 2006. However, this isn’t about the medals Canada hasn’t captured, it’s about the medals they have. Salt Lake City in 2002; an embarrassing opening loss to Sweden, followed by then General Manager Wayne Gretzky’s tear-filled, impassioned plea to believe in the team and his guarantee of a gold medal. A gold medal Canada delivered by beating their rival Americans on U.S. soil. A poor performance at Turin followed, but it taught the Canadian brass one thing: the rest of the hockey-playing world has caught up in terms of skill. The era of hockey being Canada’s game was in question even before Salt Lake, and decisively lost post-Turin. It was now up to Canada to reclaim hockey as its game, and what better way to do it than to beat a very talented American team once again for the gold medal, this time at home in Vancouver.
1 Spain Men’s Soccer 2007-Present
There is only one international tournament that is as hard to win as the Men’s Olympic Hockey Tournament, and that is the FIFA World Cup of Soccer. The UEFA European Championship is a close second. The fact that the Spanish Men’s Soccer team has won not only a World Cup but also TWO European championships since 2006 makes them a lock for the number one spot on this list. At one point between 2007 and 2009 Spain went undefeated in 35 matches. With all of Spain’s successes, ‘La Furia Roja’ may not be quite ready to give up their number one world ranking just yet. The core of the team that started the winning streak with Euro 2008 has remained largely intact, even up to the most recent qualifying matches in preparation for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Though age may play a role in where Spain ultimately finishes, when a team can boast a midfield with the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi and Xabi Alonso, and a keeper and captain like Iker Casillas, they can never be considered underdogs. The possession-based style of soccer the team deploys is so well-suited to the formidable midfield they possess that as long as Spain can maintain the ball more often than not during the World Cup, they may soon be adding another title to their legacy as the best international team of all time.
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