Every four years, 32 nations come together to determine which country has the best soccer talent in the world. The limitation to 32 nations, however, leads to a simple problem – sometimes the world’s greatest talent is on a national team where the other players are not-quite-good-enough to downright poor. I thought it would be an interesting exercise as we begin filling out fantasy brackets and studying up on the participants to see how a squad composed of the “excluded” players would fare in the World Cup. This squad would not include those players who are injured and cannot participate, nor those players (Giuseppe Rossi) that could not make their national team squads. This is simply a starting XI and seven bench players that would compose a one-time only created country to compete in this World Cup.
Let’s call our new nation The Federation, invite players to form a team, and prognosticate how it would perform in Brazil.
Keeper: Petr Cech (Czech Republic). The veteran keeper is the envy of probably half the teams in this World Cup and if he were a “free agent” could likely catapult a few countries into contention to exit the group stage. As it is, he will have to settle for being the main keeper for The Federation. Backup – Wojciech Szczesny (Poland) who had a breakout year for Arsenal and, since his form with Poland was poor in Euro 2012, is looking for redemption.
Fullbacks: David Alaba (Austria) and Lukasz Piszczek (Poland). The two Bundesliga veterans would give this team a good pair of fullbacks to both defend and help out in the attack. If we need to bring a back-up to Brazil, you could do a lot worse than rising star Seamus Coleman (Ireland) but due to roster limits he would have to be an injury call-up.
Center-backs: Mehdi Benatia (Morocco), and Martin Skrtel (Slovakia). This was a tough choice as there are a number of very good veteran players eligible for these slots. In fact, if he were healthier, Neven Subotic could have bumped one of these two. However, Skrtel is a menace (in a good way) and Benatia is blowing up for AS Roma. We can only take a limited number of defenders, so Daniel Agger (Denmark) and Branislav Ivanovic (Serbia) beat out Vlad Chiriches (Romania).
Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey (Wales), Marek Hamsik (Slovakia), Gareth Bale (Wales), and Mohamed Salah (Egypt). This is why I am not very good at Football Manager, because I struggled to make my glut of midfielders work on the pitch. However, Ramsey has played deeper for Arsenal in the past so he can be slotted slightly out of position with Bale reverting to the left wing/wherever he wants and the exciting Salah on the right. Hamisk can play as the attacking midfielder and I would probably have him as my captain. Since we have the young Salah starting, I would bring as subs the veteran Christian Eriksen (Denmark) as well as the up-and-coming Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon) and Nuri Sahin (Turkey).
Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) and Robert Lewandowski (Poland) with Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro) as our back-up. This would rival any squad as the most potent group of forwards in Brazil.
Coach: Giovanni Trapattoni assisted by Bob Bradley.
Outlook: When compiling this team, I realized that I fell into my normal trap of overvaluing youth over the more veteran players. However, in this World Cup where atmosphere and weary legs will be a factor, this may not be a bad thing. While the draw is maybe the most important factor in World Cup success (just ask Ghana and the U.S.), this team probably could advance well past the group stage regardless of where it’s drawn. Ibrahimovic and Lewandowski could score plenty of goals and, although our defense is maybe our weakest part, it is strong enough to be credible. I think this team could easily make the semifinals and would have a legitimate shot to win the World Cup. Unfortunately for these players, that can only be a fantasy.
Which players would you recruit for this team, and how would it perform in Brazil?