The first of Under the Wall’s Best XI series takes a look at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and asks, “What if the best players from each group could be on the same squad?” How neat would it be if the standouts from less talented countries could join the powerhouses to create a megateam, and those teams had to join forces to compete with other groups in the World Cup?
The answer is pretty freakin’ neat.
We start with Group A, which is admittedly the Group of Meh in this year’s competition. The hosting Russians enter the year with the lowest FIFA ranking (64) of any of the tournament’s 32 teams, but were automatically put in Pot 1. Saudi Arabia ranks just one notch higher (63), qualifying with a second-place finish in their group by winning a goal difference tiebreaker over Australia. Egypt (31) was also drawn to group A after dramatically topping their qualifying group, finishing above both Ghana and Uganda. Uruguay (21) is the clear class of the group, but are the sixth best team from South America according to FIFA’s rankings. FIFA rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, but there’s no denying this is the overall least talented group of the whole tournament. On the bright side, it might also be the most competitive and exciting, and give rise to a potential sleeper.
Without further ado, here’s the Group A Best XI. For clarification, I’ll try to keep a base 4-2-3-1 in all my best XI, but I’m flexible to change if the talent requires it.
GK: Fernando Muslera– Uruguay (Galatasaray)
CB: Diego Godin– Uruguay (Atletico Madrid)
CB: Jose Maria Gimenez– Uruguay (Atletico Madrid)
RWB: Mario Fernandez– Russia (CSKA Moscow)
LB (holding): Miguel Britos– Uruguay (Watford)
CDM: Matias Vecino– Uruguay (Inter Milan)
CM: Alan Dzagoev– Russia (CSKA Moscow)
LW: Oleg Shatov– Russia (Zenit St. Petersburg)
RW: Mohammed Salah– Egypt (Liverpool)
CF: Edinson Cavani– Uruguay (PSG)
CF: Luis Suarez– Uruguay (Barcelona)
GK: Stanislav Kritsyuk– Russia (FC Krasnodar)
GK: Igor Akinfeev– Russia (CSKA Moscow)
CB: Sebastian Coates– Uruguay (Sporting CP)
CB: Victor Vasin– Russia (CSKA Moscow)
RB: Igor Smolnikov– Russia (Zenit St. Petersburg)
LB: Federico Ricca– Uruguay (CF Malaga)
CM: Igor Denisov– Russia (Lokomotiv Moscow)
CM: Gaston Ramirez– Uruguay (Sampdoria)
LM: Diego Laxalt– Uruguay (Genoa)
LM: Diego Rolan– Uruguay (Malaga)
RM: Alexandr Kokorin– Russia (Zenit St. Petersburg)
ST: Fedor Smolov– Russia (FC Krasnodar)
The real story here is Suarez, Cavani, and Salah. That’s a front three that can compete with any other group. If the two Uruguayan center backs can hold opponents in front of their veteran GK Muslera, this squad could be pesky underdogs in a cup between groups.
Still the gap between the four superstars of this team and the rest is massive. I don’t expect to have such difficulty filling the starting lineup for other groups.
What this team does have is good depth. There is not as much of a dropoff between the lower-tier starters and throughout the bench, with the exception of one position. There’s not one decent left back in the whole group. I slotted Miguel Britos in the spot because of his veteran presence and past experience at the position, but even that was a stretch. He has been playing primarily center back while at Watford, and would likely fall into a LCB role. I could have just as easily switched to a 3-5-2 and inserted Coates or Vasin into the staring linuep, but decided to keep a 4-man back.
Unfortunately, I was not able to put any Saudi Arabian players into the 23-man roster. The closest was LB/RB Yasser Al Shahrani of Al Hilal, but he would still fall as the 4th or 5th choice left back.
Did I forget anyone? Is anyone out of position? Let me know in the comments!