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FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 Portuguese footballers of all time

As part of the countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Portugal.

Despite boasting some of the finest players to have ever graced the game, Portugal have rarely found themselves among the world's elite when it comes to major international tournaments.

Indeed, the closest that they have come to picking up silverware was at Euro 2004, when they were beaten by surprise winners Greece in the final on home soil. You have to go all the way back to 1966 for their best showing at a World Cup as they finished third in England.

Hopes will be high that they can challenge that this summer in Brazil, although they nearly didn't make it at all having squeezed past Sweden in a qualifying playoff to reach the finals.

Here, to continue our countdown to the 2014 tournament, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Portugal.

10. Deco (2003-10, 75 caps, five goals)

Deco takes the ball away from Steven Gerrard during Portugal vs. England on June 24, 2004.© Getty Images

Brazil's decision not to call the Sao Bernardo do Campo-born Deco up to their senior squad proved to be Portugal's gain as the diminutive midfielder quickly established himself as one of the national team's most important players following his debut in 2003.

He gained Portuguese citizenship by virtue of spending five years in the country, with the most notable spell in his adopted homeland coming with Porto. There, he helped the team to three league titles, three cups, a UEFA Cup and the Champions League, being voted man of the match in the final of the latter.

He added another Champions League crown with Barcelona two years later and also won La Liga twice during his time in Spain before moving to Chelsea and picking up another league title and two FA Cups. He featured in two World Cups for Portugal, while individually he came second in the Ballon d'Or voting in 2004.

9. Nene (1971-84, 66 caps, 22 goals)

An idol of the most successful club in Portuguese football, Nene spent his entire 18-year career with Benfica and was a key player for the vast majority of that spell. The striker was clinical in front of goal and helped fire The Eagles to a trophy-laden period of their history.

Indeed, in the process of scoring 263 goals for the club, Nene picked up 11 league titles and eight cups, doing the double no less than four times. The 1972-73 league season was particularly memorable as Benfica went through the entire campaign unbeaten, winning 28 of their 30 matches, including a run of 23 victories in a row.

He twice finished as the league's top scorer and was named as the Portuguese Footballer of the Year in 1971. He came second in the voting one year later, once again finishing ahead of teammate Eusebio.

8. Fernando Chalana (1976-88, 27 caps, two goals)

Had his career not been blighted by so many injuries, Fernando Chalana could have found himself even further up this list. A tricky left winger who drifted past defenders with consummate ease, Chalana's relatively low tally of 27 international caps does not do his talent justice.

Nicknamed 'the Little Genius', Chalana did manage to showcase his skills at the 1984 European Championships in France, where he was named in the Team of the Tournament as Portugal reached the semi-final stage before being eliminated by the hosts and eventual winners.

Most of his club career was spent with Benfica, where he won six league titles and three cups before adding another two league titles and two cups in France with Bordeaux. Individually, he was named Portuguese Footballer of the Year in both 1976 and 1984.

7. Paulo Futre (1983-95, 41 caps, six goals)

It was always going to take a special player to pick up Chalana's mantle, but Paulo Futre ensured that the winger's retirement did not severely weaken the Portuguese side. Slotting straight in on the left, Futre quickly proved that he was as capable of beating the opposition as his predecessor.

He became the youngest player in Portugal's history when he made his debut in 1983 aged just 17 years and 204 days, and he went on to make a further 40 appearances for the national team, including turning out at the 1986 World Cup. It was a year later that he established himself among the world's elite, however, being named second in the voting for the 1987 Ballon d'Or.

That year he also put in a man of the match display in the victorious European Cup final for Porto having helped them to back-to-back league titles before that. Arguably his best football was played with Atletico Madrid, however, where he won the Spanish Cup two years in a row. He was also named Portuguese Footballer of the Year in consecutive years, picking up the award in 1986 and 1987.

6. Rui Costa (1993-2004, 94 caps, 26 goals)

While Luis Figo was regarded as the golden boy of Portuguese football during the 1990s and early 2000s, Rui Costa was not far behind him in terms of both talent and affection. The attacking midfielder was renowned for playing eye-of-the-needle passes that even split the notorious Italian defences of that era.

His move to Fiorentina from Benfica brought with it widespread acclaim for his ability as he helped the team to two Coppa Italia titles in the space of five years. He later moved on to AC Milan, where he won another Coppa Italia, the Serie A title and the Champions League.

His 94 international appearances encompassed a World Cup and three European Championships, with Portugal reaching the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final in the continental showpiece. Rui Costa was named in the All-Star teams for both 1996 and 2000, while also playing an important role in the route to the 2004 final.

5. Mario Coluna (1955-68, 57 goals, eight goals)

A lynchpin of the golden eras for both Benfica and Portugal, Mario Coluna was second only to Eusebio in importance for both sides. The midfielder quickly established himself as a leader and was consequently given the armband at both club and international level.

It was under his guidance that Portugal recorded their best-ever performance at a World Cup, helping the team to third place in 1966. His performances were so impressive in that tournament that he was named in the All-Star team, completing a midfield that included legends such as Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer.

While silverware eluded him on the world stage, the same certainly could not be said of his time at club level. During his 16 years with Benfica, Coluna made 525 appearances and amassed a whopping 10 league titles, seven cups and two European Cups, breaking the dominance of the all-conquering Real Madrid in the latter tournament.

4. Fernando Peyroteo (1938-49, 20 caps, 14 goals)

He may not be the most familiar name on this list, but Fernando Peyroteo can lay a legitimate claim to being the greatest goalscorer the game has ever seen. He found the back of the net 331 times in just 197 matches for Sporting, giving him a goals-to-game ratio of 1.68 - the highest in the history of football.

While an absence of top quality opposition prevents him from being considered among the best ever, there is no doubting that Peyroteo was a giant of his era. As part of the legendary Sporting attacking lineup nicknamed the 'Five Violins', he won five league titles and five domestic cups.

His finest individual moment came against Leca in 1942 when he netted nine times in a single match, while he also struck eight past Boavista on another occasion. He remains the top scorer in the history of the Portuguese league, 12 goals clear of Eusebio.

3. Luis Figo (1991-2006, 127 caps, 32 goals)

The leader of Portugal's second golden generation, Luis Figo was among the best of a hugely talented generation of players. His international haul of 127 caps makes him the highest appearance-maker in his country's history, while his 32 goals put him fourth on the all-time list of scorers.

He became a Galactico at Real Madrid following a world-record and highly controversial transfer from Barcelona, where he had become an idol to the club's fans. Over the course of his time with the two Spanish giants, Figo won four La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys, the Cup Winners' Cup and the Champions League.

He added four consecutive league titles in Italy with Inter Milan as well as a Coppa Italia success as he finished his illustrious career at the San Siro. He was awarded the prestigious Ballon d'Or in 2000 and named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001, while also being voted the Portuguese Footballer of the Year a record six times - all consecutively between 1995 and 2000.

2. Eusebio (1961-73, 64 caps, 41 goals)

Missing out on top spot by the narrowest of margins is the man who for so long was regarded as the undisputed king of Portuguese football. Eusebio not only stands above most of his compatriots in terms of quality, but he is also deserving of being mentioned in the discussion of the greatest player of all time.

'The Black Panther' possessed incredible athleticism and technique to go with a natural instinct of front of goal, attributes that made him one of the greatest scorers ever. He netted an incredible 749 times in 743 matches at club level while also managing 41 in 64 for Portugal, making him the national team's third-highest scorer.

Unsurprisingly, he remains Benfica's top scorer with 638 goals in 614 games, helping the Eagles to 11 league titles, five cups and one European Cup. He also reached three more European Cup finals, only to end on the losing side in 1963, 1965 and 1968. During his 15-year stint with Benfica, he finished as the Portuguese league's top scorer seven times, which is more than any other player.

His zenith on the international stage came in the 1966 World Cup, where he finished as the tournament's top scorer with nine goals as Portugal recorded their best-ever finish of third place. He came second in the voting for the Ballon d'Or that year having previously won it in 1965 and finished as runner-up again in 1962.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (2003-present, 110 caps, 49 goals)

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Sweden during their World Cup play-off match on November 19, 2013© AFP

It was always going to take a player of immense quality to topple Eusebio from his throne, but Cristiano Ronaldo is deserving of being compared to the legendary striker. Having already established himself as Portugal's highest-ever goalscorer, Ronaldo now has the appearance record in his sights as he sits just 17 matches short.

Aged 29, he has plenty of time to improve those statistics too. The striker is almost single-handedly responsible for his side being in this summer's tournament having scored all four goals in the two-legged playoff win over Sweden. Fittingly, he will captain the team in Brazil as the current crop of players look to emulate and eclipse those of 1966.

Formerly the world's most expensive player, Ronaldo burst onto the scene with Manchester United before an £80m move to Real Madrid. He won three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups and a Champions League at Old Trafford, while he has added one La Liga title and two Copa del Reys at the Bernabeu.

His current goalscoring record with Madrid stands at a phenomenal 251 goals in just 245 matches, and he could be key in helping the team to their 10th European Cup success on May 24. Individually, he has won a host of awards, including two Ballon d'Ors - a tally that would be significantly greater had he not faced such stiff competition from Lionel Messi.

Portugal will face Germany, Ghana and the United States in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.

Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in Russia's history tomorrow. You can also see all of the World Cup top 10 lists so far by clicking here.

body check tags ::

Who is the greatest Portuguese footballer of all time?

Cristiano Ronaldo
Luis Figo
Fernando Peyroteo
Mario Coluna
Rui Costa
Paulo Futre
Fernando Chalana
Cristiano Ronaldo
Luis Figo
Fernando Peyroteo
Mario Coluna
Rui Costa
Paulo Futre
Fernando Chalana
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