FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 Spanish players of all time

As part of the countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole takes a look at the top 10 players in the history of Spanish football.

With the exception of their 1964 triumph at the European Championships, Spain were serial underachievers on the international stage.

That was until the current generation took centre stage. They broke a 44-year wait for a major trophy by winning Euro 2008, before going on to lift the World Cup two years later in South Africa. For good measure, they then backed that success up by retaining their European Championship crown in 2012.

Add to that the fact that Spanish clubs have consistently competed for the big prizes in Europe over recent years and it's little wonder why they are among the favourites to make it four tournament victories in a row in Brazil this summer.

Here, to continue our countdown to the 2014 World Cup, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Spanish football.


10. Andoni Zubizarreta (1985-1998, 126 caps, no goals)

Former Barcelona goalkeeper Andoni Zubizaretta in action for Spain at the World Cup on June 18, 1986.© Getty Images

In his prime, there were few better goalkeepers in world football than Zubizarreta. Having started his career with Athletic Bilbao, whom he helped to win two La Liga titles and one Copa del Rey, the shot-stopper went on to win virtually every prize on offer during his eight years with Barcelona.

At the Camp Nou, he won La Liga on four occasions, as well as captaining the Catalan club to their first ever European Cup in 1992. Zubizarreta kept a clean sheet at Wembley as Barca overcame Sampdoria 1-0. He would go on to end his playing days on the Spanish coast with Valencia.

As far as international football is concerned, the current director of football at Barcelona is a veteran of four World Cups and two European Championships, although La Roja were unable to come out victorious from any of those six tournaments.


9. Fernando Hierro (1989-2002, 89 caps, 29 goals)

Fernando Hierro strikes a penalty for Spain at the World Cup on June 07, 2002.© Getty Images

There have not been many more prolific defenders in the history of football than Hierro, so much so that for a while, he was Spain's leading goalscorer of all time. He found the net on 29 occasions for his country in total, the most important of which he scored during a 1994 World Cup qualifier against Denmark that saw Spain qualify for the tournament.

Like Zubizarreta, the centre-back appeared in four World Cups and two European Championships. His performances at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan were noted by FIFA, who named him in their Team of the Tournament.

The majority of his honours were won with Real Madrid, with Los Blancos lifting the La Liga trophy four times and the Champions League a further three times during his 11-year stint. When Real won the European Cup in 1998, he was voted as the competition's best defender. In his latter years, Hierro spent a season in the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers.


8. Luis Suarez (1957-1972, 32 caps, 14 goals)

No, not the Suarez that has Liverpool supporters believing that the glory days are not far away from returning. Decades before the Uruguayan took centre stage, Luis Suarez Miramontes was shining for the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan and the Spanish national side.

With Barca, the playmaker was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1960, which convinced Inter to part with a then world-record fee of £142,000 for his services a year later. In Italy, Suarez won three Serie A titles to go with the two La Liga trophies that he lifted in his homeland. Also with Inter, he got his hands on the European Cup twice.

If that wasn't enough, the 79-year-old was a key figure as Spain won the European Championships in 1964 - their first major trophy. His performances for the hosts also saw him named in the Team of the Tournament.


7. Emilio Butragueno (1984-1992, 69 caps, 26 goals)

Spain's Emilio Butragueno celebrates one of his four World Cup goals against Denmark on June 18, 1986.© Getty Images

Nicknamed 'The Vulture', Butragueno is regarded by many to be among the best centre-forwards to have worn the famous Real Madrid white shirt. He was one fifth of La Quinta del Buitre - a moniker given to the five players (Butragueno, Manolo Sanchis, Martin Vazquez, Michel and Miguel Pardeza) that helped the club to dominate Spanish football throughout the 1980s.

During his time at the Bernabeu, the striker won La Liga six times and the Copa del Rey twice, but the European Cup eluded him and the club during that time. Having said that, he was a member of the squad that won the UEFA Cup in 1985 and 1986.

For Spain, Butragueno scored 26 goals, four of which came in one World Cup encounter against Denmark in 1986. That took his tally for the tournament to five, which earned him the Silver Ball award alongside Diego Maradona.


6. David Villa (2005-present, 94 caps, 56 goals)

Atletico Madrid striker David Villa celebrates scoring for Spain at the World cup on July 03, 2010.© Getty Images

When you take into consideration the quality of strikers that have preceded Villa in a Spain shirt, it shows just how clinical the 32-year-old is because as it stands, no player has scored more goals for La Roja than him.

It's not just the number of goals that he has scored, but how important they have been. He contributed four as Spain won Euro 2008 and then went one better with five at the 2010 World Cup. Sadly, though, a broken leg ruled him out of adding to his major tournament tally at Euro 2012.

To add to his international medals, Villa has won almost everything that club football has to offer. During the early part of his career the frontman helped Real Zaragoza and Valencia to win the Copa del Rey in 2004 and 2008 respectively, before he went on to be a key component of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona team that swept aside all that stood before them. He was deemed surplus to requirements at the Camp Nou last summer, but has proved the doubters wrong by helping an unfancied Atletico Madrid to win La Liga and reach the final of the Champions League.


5. Alfredo Di Stefano (1957-1961, 31 caps, 23 goals)

Alfredo di Stefano poses with a football on June 12, 1956.© Getty Images

Di Stefano, quite rightly, was included in our list of Argentina's top 10 players of all time. Yet, the Buenos Aires-born centre-forward simply had to be included among this selection as well.

His move to Real Madrid helped him to acquire Spanish citizenship in 1956 and despite the fact that he had turned out for the Argentines on six occasions, he was granted permission to represent Spain from 1957 onwards. Unsurprisingly, Di Stefano was prolific for his adopted country, but his goals couldn't help them to qualify for the 1958 World Cup. They did reach the tournament four years later, but an injury prevented the striker from gracing football's biggest stage.

He more than made up for that, though, with Real. Thanks to his goals, Los Blancos won La Liga seven times and the European Cup on five occasions. The 87-year-old also won the Ballon d'Or twice and was Europe's top goalscorer in 1958 and 1962.


4. Raul (1996-2006, 102 caps, 44 goals)

Spain centre-forward celebrates scoring for a second time against South Africa on June 12, 2002.© Getty Images

A supporter of Atletico Madrid as a youngster and a product of their youth academy, Raul went on to become a legend with city rivals Real. He made his debut for Los Blancos at the age of 17 and his form, even at that tender age, was one of the reasons that the prolific Butragueno departed the club in 1995.

Real's record appearance holder and leading goalscorer of all time, Raul helped the club to win six La Liga crowns, and three Champions League titles. In two of those three European finals, the centre-forward found the back of the net.

He was also prolific for Spain and was their leading goalscorer until being pipped by Villa. His most clinical spell came during qualifying for Euro 2000, where he scored four goals in back-to-back fixtures against Austria and San Marino. What's more, he scored at least one goal in each of the three World Cups that he appeared in.


3. Iker Casillas (2000-present, 153 caps, no goals)

Goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas lifts the World Cup for Spain on July 11, 2010.© Getty Images

When Spain ended their 44-year wait for a major trophy at Euro 2008, it was their captain Casillas that got his hands on the trophy first. He then skippered the team to their first ever World Cup triumph 24 months later, before they retained the European Championships.

Along the way, and still aged only 33, the goalkeeper has become Spain's most-capped footballer, having turned out on 153 occasions to date. He will keep goal again in Brazil, despite the fact that he is no longer first choice with his club side Real Madrid.

FIFA's five-time Goalkeeper of the Year, Casillas has a bursting trophy cabinet. In 2000, he became the youngest goalkeeper to appear in a Champions League final as Madrid defeated Valencia and he was also between the posts when Los Blancos won the same competition two years on. The stopper has also won La Liga five times and the Copa del Rey twice.


2. Andres Iniesta (2006-present, 94 caps, 11 goals)

Barcelona's Andres Iniesta celebrates scoring the winner for Spain in the World Cup final on July 11, 2010.© Getty Images

He may measure up at just 5'7", but no player has scored a bigger goal for Spain than Iniesta. With the 2010 World Cup final looking destined for a penalty shootout, the attack-minded midfielder powered a half-volley into the bottom corner of the Dutch net in the 116th minute to secure the trophy for his nation.

It was a contribution that saw him named in FIFA's Team of the Tournament, before his displays at Euro 2012 saw UEFA name him as their Player of the Tournament. Also, Iniesta has finished in the top four of the running for the Ballon d'Or on three occasions since 2010.

Having come from Barca's academy La Masia, it took some time for the pint-sized midfielder to nail down a place in the starting lineup. Yet, as soon as he did that, he's been unmovable. At the time of writing, Iniesta has been involved in six La Liga-winning squads and the Copa del Rey twice. He has also lifted the Champions League trophy on three occasions.


1. Xavi (2000-present, 130 caps, 13 goals)

Xavi in action for Spain during the World Cup final on July 11, 2010.© Getty Images

It was always going to take a special player to keep Iniesta off top spot and Xavi certainly falls into that bracket. Indeed, there are those that believe that without Xavi feeding him on a regular basis with pinpoint passes, Iniesta's impact would not have been as great - ditto Lionel Messi at Barca.

The midfielder is by no means a prolific scorer of goals and doesn't possess a physical presence, but, like Paul Scholes in his veteran years, is one of the best technicians to have ever played the game. For years he has been viewed as Barca's heartbeat - something that he has taken with him into the Spain side during their recent success.

He has featured heavily as Spain won the last three tournaments, as well as lifting the La Liga trophy seven times. Throw into the bargain three Champions Leagues and two Copa del Reys and it was impossible not to select 'The Puppet Master' as Spain's number one.


Spain will face Chile, Holland and Australia 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 Switzerland's history tomorrow. You can also see all of the World Cup top 10 lists so far by clicking here.

Who is the greatest Spanish footballer of all time?

Xavi
Andres Iniesta
Iker Casillas
Raul
Alfredo Di Stefano
Emilio Butragueno
Luis Suarez
David Villa
Fernando Hierro
Andoni Zubizarreta
Other
Xavi
32.6%
Andres Iniesta
15.9%
Iker Casillas
6.6%
Raul
8.5%
Alfredo Di Stefano
4.7%
Emilio Butragueno
1.4%
Luis Suarez
3.7%
David Villa
8.2%
Fernando Hierro
1.0%
Andoni Zubizarreta
0.6%
Other
16.8%
Former Arsenal player Thierry Henry warms up during a training session at London Colney on November 25, 2013
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