Who do you think are the best teams in South America? Here, we’ve listed the continent’s top 10 football teams according to the Opta Power Rankings.
South America has produced many of the greatest footballers of all time, and as such the continent’s clubs possess a certain romantic mystique that’s arguably unique to that region of the world. The combination of historic names, nostalgia and a fan culture wrapped up in fiery passion helps to facilitate the idea for many that South America is the place to experience football as a fan.
Brazil and Argentina in particular are packed full of recognisable clubs that benefit from huge followings domestically, so it is no surprise that these two nations have dominated South America’s premier club competition, the CONMEBOL Copa Libertadores.
Fifteen clubs have won the Copa Libertadores at least twice, and 11 of them are from Brazil or Argentina; in fact, Saturday’s final was between Fluminense of Brazil and Argentina’s Boca Juniors, with the former winning 2-1 after extra time.
But how many of the most renowned clubs are currently in among the top-10 ranked sides in South America? We’ve delved into the Opta Power Rankings – which is a global team-ranking system that assigns a score to nearly 13,500 domestic football teams on a scale of zero to 100; 100 being the best team in the world and zero being the lowest-ranked side – to answer that question.
You’ll find a full explainer on the Opta Power Rankings elsewhere on Opta Analyst and we’ve also identified the top clubs in Africa and Asia, but right now we’re here to provide the lowdown on the 10 best-ranked sides in South America.
10. Fortaleza | Rating: 79.7 | Global Rank: 137
Sitting just behind Fluminense in the Brasileiro table in ninth, Fortaleza are in a similar position in the Opta Power Rankings.
The main contributing factor for their rise despite not being one of the traditionally fashionable Brazilian clubs is their run in the CONMEBOL Copa Sudamericana, the continent’s secondary competition.
They overcame Libertad, Américo Mineiro and Corinthians en route to the final but ultimately lost on penalties to LDU Quito 4-3 after a 1-1 draw in the title game. That would have been the first continental title for Fortaleza, who’ve also never won the Brazilian top tier.
9. Fluminense | Rating: 79.9 | Global Rank: 132
This might come as a bit of a surprise, but Fluminense are the only one of this year’s Copa Libertadores 2023 finalists to make into the top 10; that’s right, you’ll not see Boca in this list (17th) because, although they’ve gone deep in the continental competition, domestically they are 10th out of 14 in Group B of the Argentine Primera División’s second phase, having won just three of 11 games.
Fluminense aren’t doing much better in the Brasileiro; they’ve won three and lost six of their last 10 league matches, but their good form in the Libertadores and 2023 success in the Campeonato Carioca – the state championship for Rio de Janeiro – has helped keep just inside the top 10.
Despite being one of Brazil’s best-known clubs, Fluminense haven’t actually enjoyed a great deal of success on a national or continental level, only winning the Brasileiro four times and reaching the Copa Libertadores final just twice. Their entertaining 2-1 victory in at the Maracanã secured their first title in the competition thanks to goals from Germán Cano and John Kennedy.
8. Athletico Paranaense | Rating: 80.4 | Global Rank: 120
No, we’ve not spelt their name wrong; yes, they are called Athletico rather than Atlético these days after reverting back to their original moniker in 2018. And yes, they’re another Brazilian club.
Athletico reached the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores this season but were eliminated by Bolivia’s Bolivar. They remain hopeful of qualifying for the 2024 edition and are certainly still in with a shout heading into the final weeks of the Brazilian domestic season.
They finished runners-up to Flamengo in the 2022 competition and have won the Copa Sudamericana in 2018 and 2021.
7. Libertad | Rating: 80.5 | Global Rank: 117
The team that puts the Libertad in Libertadores… or something. They’ve actually never won the competition, reaching the semi-finals in 1977 and 2006. The last four is also the best they’ve managed in the Copa Sudamericana (2013, 2017 and 2021).
The Paraguayan club’s high position in the Opta Power Rankings will be partly explained by their strong form domestically as they’ve lost just once through 18 matches and are top with a 10-point cushion.
Libertad – for whom former Paraguay and Benfica goal machine Óscar Cardozo is still banging them in aged 40 – did also reach the last 16 of the Copa Sudamericana before losing out to Fortaleza.
6. Botafogo | Rating: 80.7 | Global Rank: 112
The club that gave the world greats such as Garrincha, Jairzinho and Nilton Santos. Despite being associated with so many legendary figures of Brazilian football, Botafogo haven’t exactly been especially successful on a national or international level.
They’ve never reached the Copa Libertadores final and were knocked out of the Copa Sudamericana by Argentina’s Defensa y Justicia in August amid a run of four successive defeats in all competitions.
Nevertheless, since promotion back to Brazil’s top tier in 2021, they’ve made good progress, having been taken over by John Textor in January 2022. That now places them in the same ownership group as Crystal Palace and Lyon, among others. They’re just about top of the Brasileiro, an impressive improvement on 11th last season, and closing in on their first top-flight title since 1995.
5. Red Bull Bragantino | Rating: 81.6 | Global Rank: 95
Perhaps the least known of the clubs under the Red Bull umbrella, but it’s fair to say Bragantino are really spreading their wings. When the Austrian energy drinks conglomerate took over the club in 2019, Bragantino hadn’t been in the top tier since the 1990s; they’d spent a fair chunk of that time in the third tier as well.
They finished as high as sixth in their second season back in the top flight and were runners-up in the Copa Sudamericana the same year (2021).
This season, Bragantino are on track for their best domestic campaign in a generation, with a Brasileiro title certainly not out of the equation as they went into their final eight games of the season third in the table.
4. Flamengo | Rating: 82.1 | Global Rank: 83
One of five Brazilian clubs to win the Copa Libertadores three times, Flamengo lifted the trophy in 2022 after defeating Athletico Paranaense, adding to their 1981 and 2019 successes.
They are widely considered Brazil’s most popular, richest and most valuable football club, and their academy has produced many big names, such as Zico, Zizinho, Mário Zagallo, Leonardo, Adriano and Vinícius Júnior.
This season hasn’t been especially successful otherwise they’d likely be higher in the Opta Power Rankings. Their Copa Libertadores title defence ended at the hands of Paraguay’s Olimpia in the last-16 stage back in August, while their Brasileiro hopes have faded. They hired former Brazil boss Tite as their head coach in October after sacking Jorge Sampaoli, who’d only been in charge since April.
3. River Plate | Rating: 82.4 | Global Rank: 78
While Boca (6) and Independiente (7) have won more Copa Libertadores crowns than any other team, Argentina’s most successful club domestically are River Plate. Los Millonarios have won a record 38 domestic league titles – three more than Boca – including the 2023 edition, which they clinched with two games to spare in July.
River’s Copa Libertadores tilt was ended in the last 16 by Internacional at the end of a lengthy penalty shootout, but they are leading the way in the second phase of the domestic season.
Arguably one of South America’s two most famous clubs with Boca, River’s legend has been helped over the years by their iconic kits and incredible academy, which has spawned players such as Pablo Aimar, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Radamel Falcao, Claudio Caniggia, Hernán Crespo, Javier Saviola, Gonzalo Higuain, Ariel Ortega, Enzo Fernández and Julián Álvarez, among many others.
2. Atlético Mineiro | Rating: 82.7 | Global Rank: 73
One of seven Brazilian clubs to win the Copa Libertadores since the turn of the century, Atlético Mineiro celebrated their greatest hour in 2013 when they overcame Paraguay’s Olimpia in the final thanks to a 4-3 triumph on penalties after drawing 2-2 on aggregate.
Their dream of repeating that success 10 years on was dashed by Palmeiras in August at the last-16 stage of the competition, losing 1-0 across the two legs.
However, they are one of the many teams still pushing to win the Brasileiro title in the final weeks of the domestic season, with their recent good form – seven wins in 11 league games at the time of publication – contributing to their high ranking.
1. Palmeiras | Rating: 84.4 | Global Rank: 55
The top-ranked South American side in the Opta Power Rankings are Palmeiras, three-time winners of the Copa Libertadores. They enjoyed continental glory in 1999, 2020 and 2021 and reached the semi-finals this year before losing to Boca Juniors.
Nevertheless, that journey to the final four will have played a significant role in Palmeiras being the top-ranked South American club, while they are also pushing Botafogo hard in the Brasileiro.
Palmeiras have won more Brasileiro titles than any other club (11), three more than Santos, with their crowns in 2016, 2018 and 2022 – their only ones this century – opening up the gap.
Much like several of the other most recognisable teams on this list, Palmeiras has seen many fine players establish themselves at the club, including Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, José Alfatini and Gabriel Jesus, while Real Madrid-bound Endrick will hope to enjoy even a hint of the success experienced by some of his predecessors.