As the planet’s favourite sport, football has produced countless legendary players spanning more than a century who have earned acclaim worldwide. However, when it comes to selecting the greatest ever footballers, polls and awards significantly lean towards forwards and attacking midfielders.

Defenders are rarely talked about in the same terms of grandeur, as attested by the fact that the Ballon d’Or has been attributed to defenders only two times since the award championing the best individual footballer in the world was inaugurated in 1956. Fabio Cannavaro and Franz Beckenbauer were the recipients.

In this article PortuGOAL redresses the balance somewhat, at least in terms of Portuguese footballers, by listing the 10 greatest Portugal defenders of all time in no particular order – each and every one a legend in his own right. 

 

Pepe (Kepler Laveran de Lima Ferreira)

Caps: 124

Brazilian born but swearing undying love and loyalty to Portugal, his fully committed performances leave no doubt about his dedication to the Seleção. Got much of his strength from when he was a child back in Brazil and his father made him practise his jumping and heading in the sea. Key member of Portugal’s Euro 2016 and Nations League 2019 triumphs.

 

Eurico Gomes (Eurico Monteiro Gomes)

Caps: 38

Commanding, classy centre-back who achieved the unique feat of winning the Portuguese title twice at each of Portugal’s Três Grandes – Benfica, Sporting and FC Porto. Unlucky in that most of his career coincided with the Seleção failing to qualify for tournaments, he did nevertheless play every minute of Portugal’s thrilling Euro 1984 campaign.

 

Ricardo Carvalho (Ricardo Alberto Silveira de Carvalho)

Caps: 89

Intelligent and metronomically reliable defender whose slight build for a centre-back belied a fierce competitive spirit. Despite a 3-year interruption to his international career after a training ground spat with Paulo Bento, Carvalho played in 2 World Cups and 3 European Championships. Became Portugal’s oldest ever outfield player when he contributed to the Euro 2016 conquest. Enjoyed tremendous success at club level, winning the Champions League at Porto and multiple trophies at Chelsea and Real Madrid. 

 

Humberto Coelho (Humberto Manuel de Jesus Coelho)

Caps: 62

One of Europe’s top central defenders in a career spanning two decades, the stylish Coelho had the misfortune of playing at a time when chronic disorganisation at administrative level undermined the Seleção and he never appeared at a major tournament. Subsequently coached Portugal during Euro 2000 with notable success.

 

Fábio Coentrão (Fábio Alexandre da Silva Coentrão)

Caps: 52

A converted winger, Coentrão’s sparkling performances at left-back, especially at the 2010 World Cup earned him a move to Real Madrid. Injuries prevented him from hitting the heights in the Spanish capital but has been consistently excellent for Portugal, his telepathic understanding with Cristiano Ronaldo a feature of his play.

 

António Veloso (António Augusto da Silva Veloso)

Caps: 40

The whole-hearted, determined, tireless Benfica legend accumulated 535 matches for the Lisbon giants, captaining the side for seven seasons. Veloso played mainly as a right-back but he was highly versatile, playing as a central midfielder against Germany at Euro 1984. His son, Miguel, is also a Portugal international.

 

Hilário (Hilário Rosário da Conceição)

Caps: 39

Sporting’s record appearance holder, Hilário was a speedy, aggressive, committed left-back – despite being right-footed – and an integral part of Portugal’s stunning 1966 World Cup campaign. Got noticed after forming a team with friends as a 13-year-old in his native Lourenço Marques (today Maputo).

 

Fernando Couto (Fernando Manuel Silva Couto)

Caps: 110

Uncompromising centre-back who enjoyed a glittering 21-year career, winning major trophies in three different countries for FC Porto, Barcelona, Parma and Lazio. For many years Portugal’s most capped defender (until being overtaken by Pepe), he played in four tournament finals from Euro 96 through to Euro 2004.

 

Germano (Germano Luís de Figueiredo)

Caps: 24

A European Cup double winner for Benfica (man-of-the-match in the 1961 final against Barcelona), he was described by club and country teammate António Simões as “the first Beckenbauer in football history” because of his refined technique and vision that enabled him to advance up the pitch and spread play from centre-back.

 

Vicente (Vicente da Fonseca Lucas)

Caps: 20

Belenenses centre-back who gained fame at the 1966 World Cup for his implacable marking of Pele, prompting the Brazilian genius to later comment that Vicente was the best defender he had ever faced (both players pictured above). Career cut short at 30 years of age when he lost an eye in a car accident.

 

Conclusion

Though there are many great Portuguese defenders, these ten men stand out as the best of the best. They were all exceptional players in their day, and their contributions to Portuguese football will never be forgotten. 

by Tom Kundert

 

Comments (9)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great article Tom.

Now, you know you're going to get a lot of "but what about so and so...."

And in order to prepare you, let me be 'that guy' first (I'm sorry).

This list is great and I agree with most of it, but I would like to make the case...

Great article Tom.

Now, you know you're going to get a lot of "but what about so and so...."

And in order to prepare you, let me be 'that guy' first (I'm sorry).

This list is great and I agree with most of it, but I would like to make the case that Joao Pinto of FC Porto should be on this list.

He is one of the greatest Portuguese defenders ever. I watched him with my Dad growing up, and he is one of the architects of the Porto that became an all-conquering machine in the 80's and 90's.

Tough tackling, hard-working, attacking defensive back, the greatest Porto captain in history. He was the kind of player who led by example and never gave up. The guy was a beast on the pitch.

And if you don't believe me, look at his stats:

4x Taca de Portugal
9x Portuguese league champions
1x European Cup (today's Champions League)

Almost impossible to find a better resume.

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Chris
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hi Chris,

Absolutely fair comment. I originally had a list of 15 but whittled it down to 10 and the two who I cut from the list but really didn't want to were João Pinto and Jorge Andrade.

This is subjective of course, but you make a...

Hi Chris,

Absolutely fair comment. I originally had a list of 15 but whittled it down to 10 and the two who I cut from the list but really didn't want to were João Pinto and Jorge Andrade.

This is subjective of course, but you make a convincing argument that Pinto should be in there and I've only ever heard good things about him.

Cheers,
Tom

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Tom Kundert
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Yes, Jorge Andrade is another contender for this series, for sure. Amazing talent, career cut short by going to the wrong team (Deportivo) as well as injuries. Too bad, he could have been awesome.

Another honourable mention for me is...

Yes, Jorge Andrade is another contender for this series, for sure. Amazing talent, career cut short by going to the wrong team (Deportivo) as well as injuries. Too bad, he could have been awesome.

Another honourable mention for me is Fernando Meira, who managed at Stuttgart to break the Bayern & Borussia dynasties of the 2000's and win the Bundesliga, and who was prodigious for Portugal over a 5 year stretch, including the 2006 World Cup, where he was amazing.

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Chris
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

GREAT ARTICLE

Neville
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great article Tom.

Fabio Coentrao did fall off the earth quick tho, shooting star player?

Val
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Injuries took their toll on his career - had a decent renaissance at Sporting and Rio Ave at the end of his career though. Also was a bit unlucky at Real Madrid to be competing with a player of Marcleo's calibre. He's one of the players, like...

Injuries took their toll on his career - had a decent renaissance at Sporting and Rio Ave at the end of his career though. Also was a bit unlucky at Real Madrid to be competing with a player of Marcleo's calibre. He's one of the players, like Maniche, who seemed to always bring his A-game to the Seleção. Can't remember him ever playing badly for Portugal.

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Tom Kundert
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great article Tom , I might take Bruno Alves over Coentrao. I'm sure he'd make your top 15 or top 20 at the very least. I'll never forget his stoppage time goal against Albania in 2009 , where he nearly jumped over the goalkeeper to head the ball...

Great article Tom , I might take Bruno Alves over Coentrao. I'm sure he'd make your top 15 or top 20 at the very least. I'll never forget his stoppage time goal against Albania in 2009 , where he nearly jumped over the goalkeeper to head the ball in. That goal prevented Portugal from being eliminated from the 2010 world cup.

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Gee Dee
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Hi Gee Dee. Good shout. Yeah, I remember that crucial goal v Albania well. Not sure he quite makes it into the absolute elite, but 96 caps deserves the utmost respect and I think he holds the record as the highest scoring defender in Portugal's...

Hi Gee Dee. Good shout. Yeah, I remember that crucial goal v Albania well. Not sure he quite makes it into the absolute elite, but 96 caps deserves the utmost respect and I think he holds the record as the highest scoring defender in Portugal's history. He was particularly excellent at Euro 2012.

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Tom Kundert
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I hear you Tom , I guess it depends on what the criteria is. Coentrao had a far greater career individually(particularly at the club level)than Alves , but I guess I feel Alves might have been more valuable to the national team based on what he...

I hear you Tom , I guess it depends on what the criteria is. Coentrao had a far greater career individually(particularly at the club level)than Alves , but I guess I feel Alves might have been more valuable to the national team based on what he did for us , not only that goal that we mentioned but also defending set pieces which really used to haunt Portugal at times. He's up there in all-time goals for centerbacks with Sergio Ramos I think and perhaps someone else(can't think of who it might be right now). His lack of pace is what hurt him at times and didn't allow
him to be at the same level with likes of Pepe and other top centerbacks in the history of the game.

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Gee Dee
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