Putting a dominant team together is a mystical achievement. It requires the proper alignment of stars, just the right doses of passion, desire, work ethic and dedication — and a good deal of luck. But when one group achieves a level that is clearly beyond the parameters of its own sport and begins to seek a unique place among the greatest teams of its era in any discipline, then it has reached the kinds of heights that usually produce vertigo. The candidates for World Team of the Year have all met these exceptional and unlikely qualifications.
Australian Men’s Cricket Team: Combining remarkable depth in batting with such notables as brothers Steve and Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer, Michael Bevan and Adam Gilchrist, plus fast bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, and wrist-spinners Shane Warne and Stuart McGill, the reigning World Cup champions impressed even the sport’s most jaded pundits when they set a world record of 12 consecutive one-day international victories after beating New Zealand by 48 runs in February 2000. They also set a world record of 15 sixes in one innings, as well as hitting the highest-ever one-day score — 349 for six against New Zealand.
Real Madrid’s Soccer Team: Since Real Madrid won the first five editions of the then-European Cup starting in 1956, it has been one of Europe’s mightiest soccer dynasties. The year 2000 allowed Real Madrid to build upon that mystique as the club won last year’s European Champions League final, beating fellow Spanish club Valencia 3-0. That marked Real Madrid’s eighth triumph in Europe’s premier club competition. In December, Real Madrid’s dominance was recognized by FIFA, the sport’s governing body, when it was named Club of the Century.
French Men’s Soccer Team: In 1994, France won its first-ever European championship. In 1998, it secured its first World Cup crown, on home soil. But that only made this club hungry for more. In July of last year, France edged Italy 2-1 in Rotterdam behind substitute David Trezeguet’s goal to clinch its second European Championship title. This established France as the first team in history to win the European crown while it held the World Cup title. To reach the final, France — behind the inspired play of midfielder Zinedine Zidane — knocked off Spain in the quarterfinals and Portugal in the semis.
New York Yankees Baseball Team: To baseball fans, Yankees is just another way of saying championship. Last year, behind the dominant starting pitching of Andy Pettite, Roger Clemens and Orlando Hernandez, plus the terrifying closing power of reliever Mariano Rivera, the Yankees beat their city rivals, the New York Mets, in the Subway Series to register their 26th World Series success. It also marked the Yankees’ fourth World Series championship in five years and their third straight. They became the first team since the Oakland Athletics, 1972 to ’74, to win three consecutive Series.
Cameroon Olympic Men’s Soccer Team: It was another ferocious campaign for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, who have emerged as one of the sport’s toughest assemblages not only on the continent of Africa but throughout the globe. Cameroon brought Africa its second soccer gold medal in successive Olympiads (Nigeria took the gold at Atlanta in 1996) when it upended heavily favored Spain on penalty kicks in a scintillating Sydney final. On the way to the that win, Cameroon shocked the world by knocking off Brazil and Chile, tournament favorites.