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Football, a team sport practiced by two sets of eleven players with a ball. It is the most played in the world and also the most popular among viewers, with a following of millions of fans. Strictly speaking, this sport should be called association football, to distinguish it from the other sports that also have the name football; that is why in the United States it is known as soccer.
Football is one of the most popular sports in the world. It is practiced in practically all the countries of the world, which meet every four years to play the World Cup and maintain throughout the year their different regular leagues.
It is estimated that football has around 250 million players worldwide and that it mobilizes around 1,800 million stakeholders and fans across the globe. It is one of the Olympic sports, and its international head is exercised by the International Federation of Football Associations (or FIFA, for its acronym in French).
The ancient origins of this sport are uncertain, but in the third century BC.C., a similar sport was practiced in China. In this remote antecedent of football, the soldiers of the Han Dynasty practiced an exercise called ts’uh Kúh (also called luju or tsu chu), which consisted of throwing a ball with their feet into a small net. In some variants, the player had to do so while fending off the physical attack of his rivals.
Later there were practices more similar to modern football, such as Japanese kemari, of a more ceremonial type, in which a ball had to be kept in the air as long as possible, passing it between players without using their hands.
There were also Western variants, such as the Greek episkyros and the Roman haspastrum, of which very little information is available. It is also known today that the ancient Mesoamerican peoples practiced something similar called Pok ta Pok, about 3,000 years ago, and that the same was done by the American Aborigines, although they called it pasuckuakohowog.
However, it is unlikely that these ancestral sports had a direct influence on modern football. The closest thing in European history is the “ball games” played by young British and French (the latter under the name of soule). In carnivals, it was common practice in the British Isles, occasions in which an entire people could participate.
The Italians had the clearest antecedent of all, the Florentine Calcio, less violent than its British variants and more organized than the French, consisting of two teams of 27 players each. It was practiced from the sixteenth century, and in 1580 Giovanni Bardi presented the first formal set of rules.
Properly speaking, the modern history of football begins in Britain in the nineteenth century, when the first unifying rules of carnival football emerged, beginning to be practiced in collegiate associations outside the holiday season. In fact, in 1863 the rules of the game of Cambridge tuition were the basis of the current code of rules, also taking rules from the Sheffield game mode.
Thus, with the regulation of just 13 rules, modern football was promoted by the newly created Football Association (FA). From there also came, although some years later, the term soccer, derived from “association” and the suffix –er, and also emerged the first league competition in history, the Football League in 1888. Its purpose was to raise enough funds to be able to professionalize FA players.
By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, English-style football had spread throughout Europe and then to other continents, in part thanks to the European colonial system, and trade with the recent American republics.
The first American football league was Argentina, founded in 1891, and the first international match outside Europe was played between Argentina and Uruguay in 1901. On the other hand, economic conditions in Asia prevented football from leaving the pure university field until the 80s of the twentieth century.
In 1904, in Paris, the Fédération International Football Association (FIFA) was founded, by football representatives from 8 different countries: France, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany. Its aim was to manage European matches not linked to Great Britain and Ireland, who initially rejected the existence of a world football body.
The first football world cup in history was played in 1930, which became the largest event of this sport in the entire globe. Then they emerged to Intercontinental Cup in 1960, the Copa Libertadores Sudamericana, and the European Champions League. Women’s football emerged professionally after World War I, when women’s participation in society and at work increased.
Best Football Players in the World
According to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), recognized by FIFA, the list of the 5 best football players in the world in the twentieth century is as follows:
Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento)
Born in Brazil in 1940, the best player of the century according to FIFA vote and best sportsman of the twentieth century according to the International Olympic Committee, he won the world cup with the Brazilian national team in 1958, 1962, and 1970, being the player who has obtained it more times and youngest in history.
Dutch player born in 1947 and died in 2016, is considered the best player in Europe, received the Ballon d’Or three times (1971, 1973, and 1974), and is considered the best exponent of the so-called “total football” of Rinus Michels.
Born in 1945 in Germany, this footballer nicknamed “The Kaiser” was captain of his country’s national team when it won the World Cup in 1974 and 1976, as well as the European Championship in 1972, and was the coach of the team when it won the 1990 Cup. In addition, he won the Ballon d’Or in Europe in 1972 and 1976, being remembered as the best player in history in his country.
Alfredo Di Stefano
Argentine footballer and coach naturalized Spanish, born in 1926, he was an honorary player of the club’s River Plate, Millonarios, and Real Madrid, being honorary president of the latter from 2000 until his death in 2014. He is considered one of the best players of all time, Real Madrid’s top scorer at the time of his retirement, after having played eleven seasons.
Diego Armando Maradona
Born in Buenos Aires in 1960, “el Diego” is one of the best-known, admired, and controversial football players in history. A midfielder or striker, he was world champion in 1986, runner-up in 1990, and world junior champion in 1979, before being suspended for doping. He was five times top scorer of the Argentine league and was later a television host, coach of several national teams, and protagonist of fiction films and documentaries.
Obviously in this list, drawn up in 2004, there are no stars of current football of the XXI century such as the Argentine Lionel Messi or the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo.