South America might be known for their attacking style in football especially in the past, however, that doesn’t mean such a big continent has never produced a top defender. This is actually what we are to in this post. Who are the top South American defenders of all time?
The list of best South American defenders we have prepared for you not only contains footballers from the football giants in South America, Brazil and Argentina, but also from other countries in the continent.
That’s not a rule you know that all the top footballers should be from the football giants mentioned above. We have some
top South American defenders
from Chile and Columbia too.
We have top footballers like Daniel Passarella and Roberto Carlos on the list. But what about the rest of the list? Stay with us to know.
Number one the list of best South American defenders of all time, Daniel Passarella is a 68-year-old retired Argentinian footballer who played as a center back and a sweeper during his career for the top Argentinian club,River Plate
, and also top Italian clubs, Inter Milan and Fiorentina. Although a defender, Passarella scored a total of 99 goals in the 298 appearances that he made for River Plate across all competitions which is not bad for a defender - almost one goal in every 3 appearances.
Pasarella won 6 Primera Division - the top tier of Argentinian football league system - titles with the same team - River Plate. He was also part of the Argentinian national team who won the 1978 and 1986 editions of FIFA World Cup. And as a manager, Passarella also won 3 Primera Division titles with River Plate and was named the South American Coach of the Year in 1997 when he was actually coaching the Argentinian national team.
Nicknamed “the Great Captain” and “the Chief” during his playtime for his top leadership abilities, Passarella was kind of a defender to often take part in attacking plays and he, himself, also scored goals. Maybe that’s why he scored so many goals as a defender during his career. In fact, he’s the second top scoring defender of all time with 175 goals in total just behind Ronald Koeman of Netherlands with 253 goals. He also captained the Argentinian national team throughout the 1978 World Cup and is actually the first Argentinian footballer ever to hold a World Cup trophy - you know the trophy is handed first to the captain.
The second footballer on our list of
best South American defenders of all time
is neither from Argentina nor from Brazil. He’s actually from Chile and is nobody but the 74-year-old Elias Figueroa who is not only considered as one of the best South American defenders - actually former South American defenders - but also one of the best defenders in the history of football by many.
Unlike Passarella, Elias Figueroa never played for a European club during his career. He only served South American clubs including some top ones like Penarol of Uruguay and Internacional of Brazil. He also served two of his home-country clubs,Palestino
and Colo Colo. In general, Figueroa won 8 club trophies during his career including 5 Brazilian Serie A titles and one Chilean Premier Division title in 1978 and with the home-club, Palestino.
And again unlike Passarella, Elias Figueroa scored not many goals during his career - 40 goals in 791 league appearances. Being a central defender, he focused more on defensive play and was known for his defensive abilities and composure in the center of defense. He was also good at cutting out opposition attacks and immediately launching a counterattack. A gentleman on and off the pitch, Figueroa was named Chile and Uruguay Footballer of the Year for four years - each two, and also on the FIFA 100 list composed by the Brazilian legend, Pele.
And here comes the first and the top Brazilian footballer on our list of best South American defenders of all time: Cafu. Cafu is 51 years old by now and during his playtime he played as a right back. He’s a product of the Brazilian club,Sao Paulo
, and also served the same club for six years at the start of his senior career, though he’s best known for serving the top Serie A clubs, AS Roma and AC Milan.
Considering the number of club, international, and individual trophies won, Cafu is actually way behind the two other footballers already mentioned in this post. He has won 20 club trophies including a Serie A title, a FIFA Club World Cup, and a UEFA Super Cup withAC Milan
, and 5 international trophies including two FIFA World Cups, namely the 1994 and 2002 editions of the competition, and two American Cups, not to mention that he was inducted to AC Milan and AS Roma Halls of Fame, and was named the South American Footballer of the Year in 1994, and also on FIFA 100 list. And with 142 caps, Cafu is actually the most capped Brazilian footballer ever - in fact, to this date.
Nicknamed Pendolino - a kind of Italian express train - for his pace on the pitch when in Italy, Cafu could not only play as a right back but also as a wing back which actually demanded more attacking play from him. He also played as a center back during his career but always had an eye for attacking moves in some of which he took part. In fact, Cafu was an offensive-minded defender who was also known for his intelligence, technical play, and leadership qualities.
Another Argentinian footballer on our list of best South American defenders of all time, Javier Zanetti is a 47-year-old retired footballer who played both as a defender and a defensive midfielder during his 22-year career which lasted from 1992 to 2014. Although Zanetti played for three clubs, namely the Argentinian clubs, Talleres andBanfield
, and Inter Milan, he’s best known as an Inter Milan player since he actually served the Italian club for 19 years of his career - 86% of all his career - and during this time made 858 appearances for them across all competitions which is more than 10 times higher than the appearances he made for the two other clubs he served during his career.
In fact, Zanetti is a record holder at Inter Milan concerning the number of appearances he has made for the Italian club. And the interesting fact here is that he’s in front by a wide margin of 102 appearances from the second most-appeared-for-Inter footballer, namely Giuseppe Bergomi, with 756 appearances. That should probably mean that his record will not be broken soon.
Named on the FIFA 100 list and induced into Italian Football and Inter Milan Halls of Fame both in 2018, Javier Zanetti also won all his 16 club trophies with Inter Milan which include five consecutive Serie A titles from 2005 to 2010 and four Italian Cups. During his playtime, Zanetti proved to be a tough defender with great stamina who could run up and down the wings several times during a match which actually earned him the nickname “the Tractor” when in Italy. He actually started his career in a more offensive role - right winger, but later, was more deployed in midfield and defense due to his defensive qualities, though he was also good at playmaking and taking part in offensive moves.
One of the top Brazilian defenders on our list of
best South American defenders of all time
, Roberto Carlos is a 48-year-old retired footballer who played as a left back for 8 clubs during his career including Inter Milan and Fenerbahce of Turkey, however, he’s best known as a Real Madrid player since he actually served the top Spanish club more than any other club during his career; actually for 11 years between 1996 and 2007 during which he made a total of 527 appearances and scored 69 goals for them.
And at international level? Well, Roberto Carlos is actually the second most capped Brazilian footballer after Cafu with 125 caps. He’s also on the FIFA 100 list and although not a Ballon d'Or winner, he actually finished second in the same contest in 2002. The interesting fact about Roberto Carlos is that he actually started his career as a forward and later was moved to more defensive positions. Maybe that’s why he was considered as the most offensive-minded defender in the history of football during his playtime - actually by the then New York Times journalist, John Charles.
And if there were only one thing that Carlos was known for during his career, it would surely be his powerful shots. They say the speed of Carlos’ shots was measured to be something around 169 Km/h; the speed that actually got him the nickname “the Bullet Man”. Carlos was also a free kick specialist and did really well at bending his shots too.
The first Uruguayan and also the first passed footballer on our list of best South American defenders of all time, Jose Nasazzi served only three Uruguayan clubs, namely Lito, Bella Vista, and Nacional, during his 19-year career which actually ended in 1937 before the start of World War II. Nasazzi does not have many club or individual trophies to his name, but he’s considered not only as one of the
best South American defenders
but also as the greatest footballer Uruguay has ever produced.
Nicknamed “the Great Marshal” during his career, Nasazzi is actually the first captain in the history of football to win and hold a World Cup trophy. He actually captained the Uruguayan national team who won the first edition of FIFA World Cup in 1930, and was also named the best player of the same competition. He actually led a team who were behind 2-1 in the first half against Argentina but finished the game with a 4-2 victory. Nasazzi also won four South American Championships with the Uruguayan national team and was named the best player of the same competition in two editions of it; actually the 1923 and 1935 editions.
The first Peruvian and another old-generation footballer on our list of best South American defenders of all time who is fortunately still alive, Hector Chumpitaz is a 78-year-old retired footballer who played as a center back during his career and only for four South American clubs, namely the Mexican club,Atlas
, and the Peruvian clubs, Deportivo Municipal, Universitario, and Sporting Cristal.
Chumpitaz won a total of 8 club trophies all of which Peruvian Liga 1 titles and with the two Peruvian clubs, Universitario, andSporting Cristal
. He also won a Copa America with the Peruvian national team in 1975. With a total of 105 caps, Chumpitaz is actually the second most capped Peruvian footballer of all time after Roberto Palacios with 128 caps.
He was also part of the Peruvian national team who could advance to the quarter finals of 1970 World Cup, though they were defeated 4-2 by Brazil there. It should also be mentioned here that Chumpitaz was named the best South American defender by the South American Football Confederation in 1969 and 1971.
A 91-year-old retired footballer from Uruguay who is the only old-generation footballer on our list of best South American defenders of all time and actually the only footballer on the list alongside Roberto Carlos who has served the top La Liga club,Real Madrid
, sometime during his career; actually for 9 years from 1957 to 1966 during which he made a total of 227 appearances for the Spanish club only at league level.
Just like Hector Chumpitaz, Jose Santamaria also played as a center back, and the unique fact about him is that he actually served two national teams during his international career; he might have had double citizenship? We don’t know, but we know for sure that he served both the Spanish and Uruguayan national teams during his playtime, but only making 16 and 20 appearances for them, respectively.
Other than Real Madrid, Santamaria also served the Uruguayan club,Nacional
, and for the same number of years he served Real: 9 years but from 1948 to 1957, however, he won most of his club trophies with Real Madrid which includes six La Liga titles five of which were consecutive and one Copa del Rey in 1962. Although never captained the Uruguayan national team, Santamaria was an integral part of the Uruguay team who could advance to the semi-finals of 1954 World Cup in Switzerland where they actually finished fourth.
Another passed footballer on our list of best South American defenders of all time, Domingos Da Guia was a Brazilian footballer who played for six south American clubs during his career which lasted from 1929 to 1948. These six clubs were the Brazilian clubs,Bangu
, Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, and Corinthians, the Uruguayan club, Nacional, and the Argentinian club, Boca Juniors, for all of whom he made a total of 417 appearances at league level.
Da Guia won 9 club trophies with the clubs mentioned above and was also named on FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in 1938 and the South American Championship Player of the Tournament in 1945. He played as a center back during his playtime and is actually considered as one of the best defenders Brazil has ever produced.
And here comes a passed footballer from Argentina on our list of best South American defenders of all time: Silvio Marzolini. He played as a left back during his playtime and is actually considered as the best left back Argentina has ever produced in the history of football. Marzolini played for the Argentinian national team in two editions of FIFA World Cup, namely 1962 and 1966 editions of the competition, where he made a total of 28 appearances in both tournaments and was named the best left back of the tournament in the latter.
And at club level? Well, Marzolini played for the top Argentinian cub, Boca Juniors, for the majority of his career; actually for 12 years between 1960 and 1972 where he made a total of 387 appearances for the Argentinian club at league level and won 6 club trophies with them including 5 Argentinian Primera Division - the top tier of Argentinian football league system - titles and one Copa Argentina in 1969. He also managed the same Argentinian team sometime in 1981, when actually still the Argentinian superstar, Diego Maradona, was playing for the team, and won a league title with them in the same year.
The only Colombian footballer on our list of
best South American defenders of all time
, Ivan Cordoba is a 44-year-old retired footballer who played for four clubs during his career, namely the Colombian club, Deportivo Rionegro, and Atlético Nacional, the Argentinian club, San Lorenzo, and the top Serie A club, Inter Milan whom Cordoba served for the majority of his career; actually for 12 years between 2000 and 2012. It is as he served the other three clubs each only for two years.
Although Cordoba served the three other South American clubs mentioned above for one third of his career, he never won a club trophy with them. He actually won all his club trophies with Inter which includes five consecutive Serie A titles from 2005 to 2010, fourItalian Cups
, four Italian Super Cups, one UEFA Champions League in 2009-10 season and one FIFA Club World Cup in 2010.
And at international level? The interesting fact about Cordoba is that although he was part of the Colombia squad in 1998 FIFA World Cup, he actually never played for them in a single match, though he had made 25 appearances in the South American World Cup qualifiers already. Despite his ineffective role in World Cup, however, Cordoba captained the Colombian national team who won the 2001 edition of Copa America. He was actually the one who scored the only goal in the same competition final leading his country’s national team to a great victory.
During his playtime, Cordoba was mostly known for his pace on the pitch, though he also possessed leadership qualities and was also good in the air despite his not very tall stature - he was only 173cm. And although usually a central defender, Cordoba could also be deployed on both wings and play as a full back or wing back due to his incredible pace and ability to patrol the flanks.
The only Paraguayan footballer on our list of best South American defenders of all time, Carlos Gamarra is a 50-year-old retired footballer who played as a center back for more than 10 clubs during his career including Inter Milan of Italy, Atletico Madrid of Spain, andBenfica
of Portugal. Gamarra made a total of 340 club appearances throughout his career which was almost evenly distributed among the clubs he served. He won 9 club trophies during his career eight of which was with South American clubs and only one of which with Inter Milan, namely the Coppa Italia trophy he won with them in 2005.
With 110 international appearances, Gamarra is actually the second most capped Paraguayan footballer of all time. His record of international appearances was not broken up until 2013 that another Paraguayan center back, Paulo da Silva, registered a new record: 150 international appearances in 17 years.
Gamarra was a physical player and was mostly known for his tackling abilities during his playtime; what actually was and is demanded from a South American defender and made him one of the most respected defenders in the history of South American footballer. Maybe the same respect actually brought him two Paraguayan Footballer of the Year awards in 1997 and 1998 and also the Best CONMEBOL Defender in the latter year.