Information about the influence of different practice levels on physical characteristics of a large number of soccer players is lacking. Therefore we assessed muscular strength and anaerobic power of elite, subelite and amateur soccer players to clarify what parameters distinguish the top players from the less successful. We tested 95 soccer players from the French first division (elite), second division (subelite), and amateurs and determined the isokinetic strength of the knee extensor and flexor muscles at angular velocities from -120 degrees x s(-1) to 300 degrees x s(-1). Vertical jump, 10 m sprint, 30 m sprint and maximum ball speed during shooting were also measured. The elite players had higher knee flexor torque than the amateurs at all angular velocities (p < 0.05), except at 300 degrees x s(-1). The hamstring/quadriceps ratios proposed with two different methods were significantly lower in the amateur group than in the elite group (p < 0.05), except at 300 degrees x s(-1). Maximum ball speed during shooting and speed over 30 m sprint were not different between elite, subelite, and amateur players while speed over a 10 m sprint was significantly slower in amateur players and faster in the elite group (p < 0.05). Although performance in soccer is not determined only by measurable variables, professional players differ from amateurs in terms of knee flexor muscle strength and short-distance sprinting speed. Based on these findings we conclude that hamstring strength is extremely important in soccer players for joint stabilization during various tasks, notably in eccentric action. Further, short-sprinting performance may mirror actual game situations at high level and could be an important determinant of match-winning actions.