Now that the midterm elections are (almost) over, let’s discuss something fun: The World Cup. Before the games start in less than a week, we like to take a moment to remember the countries that didn’t make it to the big party and the players we won’t get to see. (No players from USA make the list this year, thankfully.) As always, this post doesn’t include players who will be missing the tournament due to injury — France will suffer without Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté — or the ones who have been left off their country’s team for whatever reason. Since FIFA is now letting teams carry 26 players this year instead of 23 like in previous years, I’ve included 26 players on this roster. Once again, apologies for the bad music on these highlight videos.
GK: Jan Oblak (Slovenia)
The mountainous Mediterranean country’s two best players are goalkeepers, and unfortunately for them, you can only play one keeper at a time. The Atlético Madrid stopper isn’t one of your newfangled goalies who’s comfortable with the ball at his feet, but when it comes to, y’know, keeping the ball out of his net, he’s one of the best.
RB: Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
The Juventus man isn’t the all-destroying force that he was during World Cups 2014 and 2018, but he can still hurt you with his speed, his crossing, and his physical play that shades over into dirtiness.
CB: Milan Škriniar (Slovakia)
Both of Inter Milan’s starting central defenders are here. The man-mountain can muscle anyone off the ball and lives to blow up opposing attacks. As a bonus, he has speed and the passing ability to start counterattacks from the backline.
CB: Alessandro Bastoni (Italy)
It’s tempting to just put the entire Italian national team here, but I’m trying to represent a lot of nations on this list. The Inter Milan stopper has taken a step forward since being moved from left-back to central defense, where his height and aerial ability are an asset. With Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci growing long in the tooth, he’s the future of Italy’s defense.
LB: Andy Robertson (Scotland)
For once, this position is stacked, so much that Ukraine’s Oleksandr Zinchenko didn’t even make the bench for this squad. Liverpool has had its ups and downs this season, but Robertson has remained steady for them as an assist machine and a left-footed dead-ball specialist.
DM: Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria)
There’s a lot of flair and skill on this team. We need some old-school toughness. The Leicester City defensive mid will snap into a tackle, break up opposing attacks, and intimidate people. Let’s have some of that.
CM: Franck Kessié (Ivory Coast)
While we’re at it, let’s have someone in the engine room who can just run and run. Built like a fireplug, the Barcelona box-to-box midfielder can wreak havoc at both ends and occasionally fire off a shot from deep with a ton of power behind it.
AM: Hakan Çalhanoǧlu (Turkey)
Every team needs a free-kick taker, and few are deadlier than the Inter Milan attacker. He can hit from all angles and from distance, and if that’s not enough, he can create chances in open play as well. His left foot may be a wand, but don’t underestimate what his right foot can do.
RW: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Someone asks the protagonist of Yesterday what could possibly be worth seeing in Liverpool, and he responds, “Mo Salah.” The winger had a bit of a wobbly start to this season, but he still has that searing speed and the ability to turn a match, as his breakaway goal against Manchester City demonstrated.
LW: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Georgia)
His country is better known for producing great rugby players, weightlifters, and wrestlers, but the SSC Napoli winger is lighting up defenses in Italy, which is not an easy thing to do. Napoli is currently atop Serie A, which they haven’t won in more than 30 years. If they win this year, Kvaratskhelia’s speed and mazy dribbling will be a big part of the reason.
CF: Erling Haaland (Norway)
This kid’s off the chain. He transferred to Manchester City this year, and is now scoring so many goals that English soccer fans are starting to get bored. A 6’5” 200-pound person should not be able to move like this, and the scary part is, he hasn’t even learned to head the ball consistently. If he ever does, it’s over for anybody facing City.
Bench: Samir Handanović (Slovenia), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy), Hamari Traoré (Mali), Stefan Savić (Montenegro), Willi Orbán (Hungary), Kieran Tierney (Scotland), Jorginho (Italy), Geoffrey Kondogbia (Central African Republic), Tomáš Souček (Czechia), Martin Ødegaard (Norway), Luis Díaz (Colombia), Miguel Almirón (Paraguay), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Patrik Schick (Czechia), Victor Osimhen (Nigeria).