The Best Players Not at the World Cup (Plus the All-Name Team)
The World Cup soccer tournament starts up this weekend, and so I’m here with my blog, sponsored by Fort Worth’s own Abbey Pub. I’ve never been to the Abbey, but I’m sure it’s a great place to watch the World Cup this summer. I’ll probably be dropping in some time this month.
I’ll have periodic dispatches from the insanity as USA tries to negotiate a difficult group, but before we get started, let’s have some fun. I’ve made up all-star teams of players who aren’t showcased at this year’s tournament, as well as the best names. Later in the tournament, I’ll have all-star teams of the tournament’s prettiest players, its ugliest players, and its wildest hairstyles. Get ready for lots of players with weird diacritical marks in their names.
For the sake of manageability, the team below is made up of the best players whose countries failed to qualify for the big dance. It doesn’t take in players who are missing due to injury (Radamel Falcao, Marco Reus, Kevin Strootman, we wish you were here) or conflicts with the coaches (Landon Donovan, Samir Nasri) or because they led a crowd in a pro-Nazi chant (actually, that’s only Josip Šimunić, who is now Donald Sterling’s favorite soccer player). I’ve embedded videos below.
THE NON-WORLD CUP ALL-STAR TEAM
GK — Petr Čech (Czech Republic)
The Chelsea goalkeeper’s last name is pronounced the same way as his nationality, and while he isn’t the most agile presence, his great length and sense of positioning makes him one of the world’s best shot-stoppers.
RB — Branislav Ivanović (Serbia)
An absolutely badass presence in the back, the captain of the Serbian national team is a mainstay for Chelsea, where he’s either deployed as a wall-like barrier in the middle or as a willing and surprisingly skilled fullback on the right side.
CB — Daniel Agger (Denmark)
Another national team captain, the Liverpool defender isn’t the most physical presence, but his defensive positioning is always elegant, and he scores highlight-reel-worthy goals by lurking near the penalty box on his team’s corner kicks and cracking left-footed shots in from deep. Also, check out his tattoos!
CB — Mehdi Benatia (Morocco)
Another giant on the backline, the AS Roma stopper has a rugged and borderline filthy game, blocking shots and snuffing out threats left and right. If he were playing for France (the country where he was born), he’d walk into their national team’s starting lineup right now.
MF — Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia)
Borussia Dortmund’s do-everything man in the middle has enough defensive presence to play centrally, but is a lethal enough passer and shooter to wreak havoc higher up the field, and has the speed and dribbling ability to torch defenders. He’s an electrifying presence on one of the German league’s top teams.
MF — Seydou Keita (Mali)
A physical, defensive presence in the middle, he who can make the killer pass and finish with either his head or his left foot. He has spent the last two years in the backwaters of the Chinese league, but now AS Roma has given him a chance to shine once again in the Champions League.
MF — Arda Turan (Turkey)
The Atlético Madrid wizard had to miss the Champions League final with an injury, a big reason why his team lost that game. A playmaker who can either be deployed centrally or on the wing, this player combines otherworldly skill with the same dogged spirit that defines his club team.
FW — Gareth Bale (Wales)
This left-footed terror is equal parts strong, fast, and determined, and had he been born in America, he would have been the greatest running back the NFL had ever seen. Watch his goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, when he gets knocked way out of bounds and still manages to recover the ball, and try to resist the urge to chant “Beast Mode!” Also, check out this picture of the Barcelona fans behind him paying tribute to his goal.
FW — Zlatan Ibrahimović (Sweden)
The huge striker is such an egomaniacal cartoon that Nike tried to make Zlatanning a thing. However, the goals he scores are every bit as outrageous as his behavior. Watch his 40-yard overhead goal in a friendly match against England. It’s the most ridiculous thing you’ll see all day.
FW — Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
As opposed to the other two forwards here, there’s nothing fancy about what this guy does. The Borussia Dortmund target man just puts the ball in the net, with his head, with his feet, off rebounds and deflections, and by any means necessary.
Substitutes bench: Samir Handanović (Slovenia), Neven Subotić (Serbia), Aymen Abdennour (Tunisia), Séamus Coleman (Ireland), Mirel Rădoi (Romania), Christian Eriksen (Denmark), Jakub Błaszczykowski (Poland), Marek Hamšik (Slovakia), Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo), Moussa Sow (Senegal), Jefferson Farfán (Peru), Dudu Aouate (Israel).
THE WORLD CUP ALL-NAME TEAM
GK: Michel Vorm (Netherlands) — Sorry, there aren’t many goalkeepers with funny names in this World Cup, so we have to settle for one whose name looks like “worm.”
DF: Frickson Erazo (Ecuador) — Oh, Frick!
DF: Harrison Afful (Ghana) — Hope he plays Afful against USA.
DF: Azubuike Egwuekwe (Nigeria) — What a mouthful of k’s and w’s!
DF: Daley Blind (Netherlands) — Is he Blind? Yes, indeed!
MF: Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Greece) — Wears his first name on his jersey, so nobody has to sew 18 letters on the back.
MF: Yeltsin Tejeda (Costa Rica) — Looks like somebody’s parents were happy when the Soviet Union fell.
MF: Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria) — Don’t tell him that he’s got a girl’s name.
FW: Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) — The Swiss have the market cornered on guys whose names start with “xh.” Also, his first name is the German word for “granite.”
FW: Ciro Immobile (Italy) — He’s actually reasonably fast.
FW: Hulk (Brazil) — So nicknamed because he looks like the Hulk.
Bench: Souleyman Bamba (Ivory Coast), Jorge Guagua (Ecuador), Georginio Wijnaldum (Netherlands), Edgar Salli (Cameroon), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (England), Wilfried Bony (Ivory Coast), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)