Messi, Maradona and the top 20 Argentine footballers in history

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While the two great No.10s have made history with the Albiceleste, the nation has been blessed with a host of incredible talents over the years

With two World Cup wins and a further three final appearances, Argentina are up there amongst the elite of international football.

Not only that, but players like Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Gabriel Batistuta to name just three have become icons of the game, instantly recognisable the world ever. 

But who is the greatest of all? Here, Goal ranks the top 20 to have ever worn the famous Albiceleste jersey...

(The players on this list have been judged on a variety of factors. Success at club and international level, longevity, big-game performances, legacy and overall ability have been all taken into account, as has each star's standing in the history of Argentine football.)

  1. ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images

    #20 Hernan Crespo

    Hernan Crespo was, at one point, the world's most expensive football player, a title that, among his compatriots, only Diego Maradona has held in the modern game.

    A striker of impossible elegance and potency, he became a firm favourite thanks to his exploits with Parma, Lazio, Milan, Inter and Chelsea among others.

    A veteran of three World Cups, Crespo also became the first man to score in the Champions League with five different teams, while helping Inter to three Scudetti in as many years from 2006 to 2009.

    He is sometimes overlooked when putting together lists of football's best strikers but, at his most deadly, few could resist the Argentine when bearing down on goal.

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    #19 Ricardo Bochini

    You know you are not just another run of the mill player when someone of Diego Maradona's stature insists you are picked for a World Cup.

    A living legend at Independiente, Ricardo Bochini was the archetype of the languid, supremely gifted Argentina No.10, playing his entire career at the Avellaneda club and helping them to four Primera titles, five Copas Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cup victories in what proved to be their most successful spell in history.

    Bochini's time in the national team was understandably curtailed by the emergence of Maradona, who was nevertheless a great friend to his older team-mate.

    “Come over, maestro, we've been waiting for you”, Argentina's captain famously said to him when he entered in the 1986 World Cup against Belgium for the last five minutes, his only experience of football's most-coveted trophy.

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    #18 Roberto Ayala

    When it comes to Argentine football, the list of heroes is dominated by creative geniuses and prolific forwards. It is testament, then, to Roberto Ayala's supreme abilities that the former Valencia favourite is remembered among the nation's elite.

    Ayala was a formidable defender in his day, playing 115 times for his nation in a career that spanned three World Cups.

    He was also an integral part of Valencia's all-conquering team of the early 2000s, winning two La Liga titles as well as the UEFA Cup in Los Che's most successful spell since the 1940s.

  4. Gabriel Rossi

    #17 Sergio Aguero

    While Sergio Aguero has often been criticised for struggling to replicate his club form on the international stage, there is no doubting his brilliance in front of the net.

    Ever since he burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old wonderkid for Independiente great things have been expected from 'El Kun', and he has certainly delivered in England.

    With two Premier League titles and more than 200 goals for Manchester City, fans at the Etihad Stadium at least have taken Aguero to their hearts as one of the club's all-time greats.

    And, at 30, there is still plenty of time for the striker to show Argentina fans exactly what he can do at the highest level.

  5. #16 Amadeo Carrizo

    Former River Plate No.1 Amadeo Carrizo was not just a fantastic player in his own right, he was also a man who revolutionised his position.

    Goalkeepers would formerly perform a mostly static role between the posts, waiting for forwards to bear down on them; Carrizo, however, would come out and meet his adversaries, a great leap forward in the 1950s that would ultimately change the game.

    Playing behind the likes of Alfredo di Stefano and Angel Labruna, the keeper was a steady hand throughout seven Primera Division triumphs for River, while he also famously kept three clean sheets in 1964 as Argentina beat future and past World Cup winners England and Brazil, Pele included, as well as Portugal to lift the Nations Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

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    #15 Javier Mascherano

    Argentina's most-capped player in history, and one of the national team's symbols over the past decade during a time of frustration and near-misses.

    Javier Mascherano may have looked past his best at Russia 2018 but that should not taint our memories of a man who served his country and clubs with distinction and consistency for so many seasons.

    Masche anchored the Albiceleste midfield on 147 occasions, and in three World Cups, while also wearing the captain's armband before relinquishing the honour to Messi in 2011.

    His drive and self-sacrifice while on international duty were legendary, while his talents should not be under-estimated either.

  7. #14 Antonio Rattin

    To fans of England, Antonio Rattin is best known for two things: his red card in the 1966 World Cup quarter final; and his subsequent refusal to leave the pitch, antics that led Sir Alf Ramsey to dub the Argentina squad "animals".

    To Argentines, however, and particularly to Boca Juniors supporters, the midfielder was an all-time legend whose undoubted passion on the pitch was supported by no little ability.

    Rattin led Boca to four Primera Division crowns during the 1960s and also appeared 32 times for Argentina, carving out a reputation as one of the country's most fearsome midfield generals.

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    #13 Oreste Osmar Corbatta

    Considered Argentina's answer to Garrincha, Oreste Osmar Corbatta was a man of a thousand legends during his short, turbulent career with Racing Club, Boca and the Argentina national team.

    The winger formed part of his nation's unforgettable 1957 Copa America-winning forward line, dubbed the 'Angels with Dirty Faces', and has gone down in history as perhaps the greatest dribbler ever to wear the blue and white shirt.

    Alcoholism and severe personal troubles meant that by the time Corbatta left Racing for Boca in 1963, still just 26 years old, his best days were already behind him, but those lucky enough to have seen 'El Loco' in full flight swear that he was among the best around.

    Racing honoured the late star by naming one of the streets close to the stadium after him, in tribute to a man that lifted two Primera titles while playing for La Academia.

  9. René Houseman

    #12 Rene Houseman

    Born in a shanty town just a few blocks down the road from the Estadio Monumental, Huracan idol Rene Houseman was the symbol of Argentina's joyous tradition of improvisation and street football when he helped the nation lift the 1978 World Cup in the very same arena.

    The winger played in two World Cups for Argentina, scoring a total of four goals, and was also key in Huracan's 1973 Primera victory, a win that propelled him, Osvaldo Ardiles and coach Cesar Luis Menotti into the limelight.

    Houseman's humble background, tricks and erratic personal life made him a people's hero, and when he passed away in March 2018 after a long battle with alcoholism and illness, he was mourned by thousands of well-wishers.

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    #11 Javier Zanetti

    The fact that Javier Zanetti played just a single World Cup in his legendary 20-year professional career is one of football's cruellest injustices. The Inter idol won every title going at San Siro, appearing over 800 times for the club he now works for as a director.

    Pupi racked up 145 caps for Argentina, a figure only beaten by Javier Mascherano, but was harshly overlooked for both the 2002 and 2010 World Cups while still in his prime.

    Those absences, however, do nothing to undermine Zanetti's standing as one of the finest full-backs of the last 20 years.

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    #10 Fernando Redondo

    Elegant, delicate and supremely talented, Fernando Redondo was one of the stars of the 1990s, running the midfield for both Argentina and Real Madrid.

    Indeed, at the Santiago Bernabeu, the deep-lying midfielder is remembered as one of the finest foreign players ever to pass through the club's hallowed halls.

    Despite his ability, Redondo's international career was rocked by fall-outs with coaches, most notably in 1998 when Daniel Passarella used the midfielder's long hair as a reason for his exclusion from the national team.

    The player featured just 29 times for Argentina, but nevertheless made a mark alongside the likes of Maradona, Batistuta and Claudio Caniggia.

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    #9 Angel Labruna

    The Grand Old Man of Argentine football, Angel Labruna was a member of River's famous 'Machine' forward line and, over the course of his 20-year stay with the Monumental side, he lifted no less than nine Primera Division titles, starring alongside the likes of Jose Manuel Moreno, Adolfo Perdernera, Felix Loustau and Di Stefano.

    Labruna was unfortunate to see most of his career coincide with a period in which Argentina refused to participate at the World Cup, with his sole experience in the tournament coming in 1958, when the 39-year-old forward was called up to compensate for the departures of Omar Sivori, Humberto Maschio and Alfredo Angelillo, who had moved to Italy and devastated the Albiceleste team.

    He did, nevertheless, win two titles with his country, lifting the South American Cup in 1946 and 1955, and he went on to become a top-drawer coach with his beloved River prior to his premature death in 1983.

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    #8 Daniel Passarella

    Daniel Passarella was Argentina's inspirational captain during the 1978 World Cup win. It was easy to fall out with such an abrasive character, both on and off the pitch, but his towering figure demanded respect from friends and foes alike.

    Passarella was an extraordinary defender, whose uncompromising tackling was only matched by his fantastic goalscoring ability – 144 goals in 447 matches at club level, with a further 22 in 70 Argentina caps.

    He also holds the distinction of being the only Albiceleste player to boast two World Cup winners' medals, albeit as an unused reserve in 1986 amid constant conflict with a certain Diego Maradona.

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    #7 Ubaldo Fillol

    Ubaldo 'El Pato' Fillol played almost the entirety of his 30-year goalkeeping career in Argentina, with only brief spells overseas, at Atletico Madrid and Flamengo.

    But while he enjoyed incredible success at club level, winning no less than seven league titles at River as well as a Supercopa Sudamericana crown at Racing at the grand old age of 38, it was his heroics with the Albiceleste that led him to earn the tag of the country's best-ever shot-stopper.

    Fillol starred at the 1974, 1978 and 1982 World Cups, with his athleticism and agility playing a huge part in the successful former campaign on home soil.

    He was particularly famous for his penalty-stopping abilities, saving a total of 25 per cent of all the spot-kicks he faced.

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    #6 Gabriel Batistuta

    Gabriel Batistuta may not have boasted the scintillating all-round talent of some of the other names on this list, but for pure lethal finishing abilities the ex-Fiorentina and Roma striker has few contenders.

    An incredible 56 goals in 72 international appearances established Batistuta as Argentina's all-time top scorer by the time he hung up his boots in 2005, a record only since surpassed by Lionel Messi.

    'Batigol' also remains the only player in history to have scored a hat-trick in two different World Cup competitions, while his trophy haul included two Copas America and a Scudetto with Roma, boosted by their No.9's 20 goals across the course of the historic 2000-01 campaign.

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    #5 Omar Sivori

    Another iconic character who ultimately became a superstar both at home and overseas, Omar Sivori first became a legend at River, even earning the privilege of having a stand at the club's Monumental home named after him.

    Incredibly, the lethal forward lifted league titles in six successive seasons, three for River and then three more in Serie A with Juventus.

    He also starred in Argentina's 1957 Copa America triumph, as part of a team many consider the greatest ever fielded by the Albiceleste in a major competition.

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    #4 Mario Kempes

    Before Maradona, Mario Kempes was Argentina's premier World Cup hero.

    The only man playing outside his country to be called up by Cesar Luis Menotti in 1978, the Valencia star repaid his coach's faith with six goals, including two in the final against Netherlands.

    Kempes' career yielded over 300 goals, and the biggest stadium in Cordoba now bears his name in tribute to the province's most famous son.

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    #3 Alfredo di Stefano

    It is no mean feat to go down in history as Real Madrid's greatest player of all time. But Alfredo di Stefano was truly a superstar in his age, guiding the Merengue to an incredible five consecutive European Cups in the tournament's early days to set down an unmatchable milestone.

    While he played in his native Argentina for just a few short years at the highest level before moving first to Colombia and then Spain, Di Stefano achieved incredible success.

    River Plate won back-to-back Primera titles during his time at the Monumental, while his sole experience with the Argentina team saw him net six goals in six to help the Albiceleste to victory in the 1947 South American Championship, fore-runner to the Copa America.

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    #2 Lionel Messi

    Lionel Messi has rewritten the history books, as well as redefining what it means to be a truly world-class footballer with his unique talents on the ball. It is likely that we will never see a player of his ilk again.

    For Argentina, however, the failure to lift a major trophy continues to hang over Messi's head.

    Perhaps next year's Copa America, if he returns, will finally see the Barcelona wizard end that painful drought, while dreams of victory in Qatar 2022 remain alive.

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    #1 Diego Maradona

    While the exuberant Diego Maradona continues to steal the headlines for his post-retirement antics, it is on the pitch that he left an indelible mark on Argentine football.

    His heroics in the 1986 World Cup, including that unforgettable second goal against England, mean he has earned a place in the nation's history as possibly their greatest-ever player, while he also earned idol status at Napoli for his role in the Italian club's transformation into Scudetto winners in the late 1980s.

    The eternal debate pitches the No.10 against Messi as Argentina's greatest. Both are legends in their own right, but Maradona's World Cup success puts him just ahead of his former charge in the Albiceleste – for now, at least.