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Top 10: Sports teams

New Zealand’s World Cup winners head the list of memorable squads.

Top 10: Sports teams

There has been plenty of debate over which teams are the greatest in the history of sport. No list could ever be definitive but, here, the PA news agency looks at 10 of the best.

New Zealand, rugby union (2010-19)

New Zealand are formidable force
New Zealand are formidable force (David Davies/PA)

Without doubt, the All Blacks are most distinguished team in world rugby, if not all international sport. They have been the pre-eminent force since their first Test in 1903, a feat remarkable for a nation of nearly five million people. The advent of professionalism saw other countries catch them, but the past decade has seen them back at the top. They won unprecedented successive World Cups in 2011 and 2015 before finishing third last year.

Brazil, football (1970)

Five-times winners, twice runners-up, Brazil have been the most successful side in World Cup history. Victories in 1958 and 1962 whet the appetite before they exploded into mainstream consciousness in 1970. With an all-star side that included Pele, Rivelino, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto in eye-catching yellow shirts, they swept audiences along on a wave of beautiful yet destructive and dominant football.

Hungary, football (1950-55)

The Magnificent Magyars of Hungary lost only twice in 53 matches, outscoring opponents 222-59, in an extraordinary streak in the 1950s. Their side of Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti thrashed an England side featuring Stanley Matthews 6-3 at Wembley. Remarkably, they surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose the 1954 World Cup final to Germany.

West Indies, cricket (1980-95)

Caribbean cricket was blessed with an extraordinary generation of players through the 1970s and 80s. Consigning their past reputation for carefree ‘calypso cricket’ to the past, and with big-hitting batsman Clive Lloyd a cohesive and inspirational captain, the West Indies won every series for 15 years. Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes were master batsmen, but what gave them their allure was an intimidating army of fast bowlers that included Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Patrick Patterson, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.

Barcelona, football (2008-12)

Lionel Messi won the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011
Lionel Messi won the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 (Nick Potts/PA)

The inspirational Pep Guardiola took total football to a new level after taking charge of his hometown Barcelona. Built around the formidable triumvirate of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and the great Lionel Messi, Barca swept to glory with a possession-based, quick-passing style that became known as tiki-taka. They won 14 trophies including Champions League titles in 2009 and 2011.

United States, basketball (1992)

After rules prohibiting their professional players from competing in the Olympics were relaxed, the United States formed what immediately became known as the ‘Dream Team’ for the Barcelona Games. They were hailed as the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled and, with a squad boasting greats such as Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird, winning gold was a formality. They won every match by 32 points or more.

New York Yankees, baseball (1949-53)

Baseball’s most recognisable and successful team have a number of claims to join this list, not least with their dominant sides of 1927 and 1998. But the group that led the franchise into the 1950s is the only one in the history of baseball to win five successive World Series. Star players included Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle.

New England Patriots, American football (2001-19)

The San Francisco 49ers won five Super Bowls between 1981 and 1995 and the Pittsburgh Steelers a remarkable four in six years from 1974-80, but no team has matched the dominance of Bill Belichick’s Patriots over the past two decades. Brilliantly led throughout by quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots have appeared in nine Super Bowls since 2001, winning six of them.

Spain, football (2008-12)

Spain were one of international’s greatest under-achievers until a stunning run of success around the turn of the last decade yielded an unprecedented three major tournament successes in a row. They had world-class players all over the pitch. Those Barcelona mainstays Iniesta and Xavi were the heartbeat of the side while goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas will also be remembered as an all-time great.

Wigan, rugby league (1988-96)

Wigan won eight successive Challenge Cups
Wigan won eight successive Challenge Cups (John Giles/PA)

At the start of the 1980s Wigan endured relegation and were considered a sleeping giant until a punt on turning full-time professional precipitated a dramatic upsurge in fortunes. A Challenge Cup win in 1985 and First Division crown in 1987 were merely starters. With stars such as Shaun Edwards, Andy Gregory and Martin Offiah, they won at Wembley eight times in succession from 1988-95 and also won seven straight league titles.

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