Story highlights

Dante names his greatest Brazilian players

The defender has represented Brazil

He currently plays for French club Nice

CNN  — 

Brazil, the birthplace of the Samba stars and “O Jogo Bonito,” has produced some of the finest footballers to ever walk the earth.

The national team boasts a record five World Cup wins and has already qualified for Russia 2018, while stars such as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Neymar have graced pitches in Europe for decades and inspired fledgling generations of future footballers.

However, for coaches of the Brazil national team, the dilemma has been how best to amalgamate style and substance.

While some have found success playing low-risk, pragmatic football – not least Carlos Alberto Parreira’s World Cup-winning team of 1994 – others have favored open, entertaining football but failed to yield trophies, such as the side of 1982, thought to be the greatest never to win a World Cup.

So combining the two – success and beautiful football – is widely regarded as the pinnacle for Brazilian football fans. The all-conquering side of 1970 and flamboyant team of 2002 spring to mind.

“We love the art of football,” former Brazil defender Dante tells CNN. “It’s something magical.

“In Brazil, we enjoy watching a player making a special move. When we see a player doing a different type of juggling, we train hard in the street to mimic it.

“That way, by having fun, we work on our technique, we learn.”

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The beautiful game becomes easier to play beautifully with players capable of producing moments of brilliance, something Brazil’s national team has always been blessed with.

Picking the three best players out of a plethora of geniuses is no easy task, but it’s a challenge Dante happily accepts. Here, in no particular order, are his answers.

Pele – Brazil’s all-time leading scorer

Pele is the only man in history to win three World Cups.

Dante calls three-time World Cup winner Pele “a true inspiration.”

“I choose Pele for all he did for football,” says the defender, who plays his football for French side OGC Nice.

Pele’s three World Cup medals, coming in 1958, 1962 and 1970, remains the all-time record, while the 76-year-old also boasts the record for the most professional goals scored in history (1,279 in 1,363 games).

“If he hadn’t done that, there wouldn’t have been so many Brazilian kids willing to play football,” adds the 33-year-old Dante as he reflected on Pele’s achievements.

Ronaldo – 62 Brazil goals in 98 matches

Ronaldo made up for defeat in the 1998 World Cup final by winning in 2002.

“O Fenômeno” (The Phenomenon) first exploded onto the European scene with Dutch side PSV Eindhoven as a bustling 17-year-old and would go on to play for Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan.

The three-time FIFA World Player of the Year became one of the most feared strikers of his generation and many consider him to be the greatest striker of all time.

Despite suffering three career-threatening knee injuries, Ronaldo – a two-time World Cup winner, in 1994 and 2002 – returned to play at the highest level each time.

“I am a guy that loves people who overcome, who have been through tough times and manage to come back to the top,” says Dante of his country’s second-highest goalscorer, trailing only Pele.

“Then Ronaldo got his knee injury, everyone said he would probably never play football again.

“And he came back, world champion in 2002 and chosen as the best player of the World Cup.”

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Neymar – the Olympic champion

Neymar celebrates scoring the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out during the men's Olympic final between Brazil and Germany at the Maracana Stadium

Alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez at Barcelona, Neymar has become a global superstar, forming one of the most feared attacking triumvirates on the planet.

But it’s the striker’s ability to remain close to his roots that Dante admires the most.

Aged 25, the Barcelona player has already scored 54 goals in 77 international appearances and is a goal away from leveling with Romario, who is third on Brazil’s all-time scoring list.

Neymar’s humility, Dante says, is what sets him apart from the current crop of Brazil stars.

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“He always keeps his feet firmly on the ground,” Dante says. “He never changes. His humbleness is incredible.”