Every four years the FIFA’s Men’s World Cup dazzles the globe. Most of the best soccer players get the opportunity to vault themselves, and their nation, into the spotlight, and maybe even the history books. However, only 32 teams get to play in the Men’s World Cup and so there are always talented players left to watch the big tournament from home. FIFA is addressing this by expanding the Men’s World Cup to 48 teams in 2026, meaning this 2022 iteration may be the last time where a glutton of big stars miss the tournament. What if we took all of those players whose nation’s did not qualify and placed them on one team? To imagine player combinations which we don’t usually see is part of the fun that international soccer provides. In this article, I am going to do just that: have some fun creating a hypothetical World Cup team comprised of player who’s nations did not qualify.
Most of the time, such imagined “Rest of World” teams only pick from the top 2-3 teams that missed out on qualification. For 2018, imagine an Italy/Netherlands combo team with a sprinkling of non-European players. In creating my own “Rest of World” team, I wanted to be a little more creative so I added a simple, yet limiting, rule: I am only allowed to pick 1 player from each country to join my team. This made for some tough choices which I will explore below.
Before sharing my team, a few more parameters: I chose a 26-man roster, as it is rumored each nation will be allowed 26 players in 2022. I did not include players whose nation qualified, but they are outside of their nation’s World Cup roster (sorry Hakim Ziyech of Morocco), as it made the pool of players almost too big, and we don’t know the official World Cup rosters yet. Also, given my 1-player-per-country rule, there are many permutations of this team. The team I name below is not a definitive team, simply the one I chose. If I didn’t pick your favorite player, or I missed a player, it’s not a knock on them. There are only so many spots on the roster and so many players deserving of a spot! I also went with a relatively standard 4-3-3 shape which affected my choices. With that, here is my roster followed by a breakdown of my choices:
Name (International team, Club team)
Goalkeeper (3): Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy, Paris-Saint Germain), Jan Oblak (Slovenia, Atletico Madrid), Odysseas Vlachodimos (Greece, Benfica)
Right-back (2): Mehmet Zeki Çelik (Turkey, Lille), Elseid Hysaj (Albania, Lazio)
Center-back (4): Guillermo Maripán (Chile, AS Monaco), Milan Škriniar (Slovakia, Inter Milan), Stefan Savić (Montenegro, Atletico Madrid), Willi Orbán (Hungary, RB Leipzig)
Left-back (2): Andy Robertson (Scotland, Liverpool), Arthur Masuaku (Democratic Republic of the Congo, West Ham)
Defensive Midfielder (3): Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria, Leicester City), Tomáš Souček (Czech Republic, West Ham), Renato Tapia (Peru, Celta Vigo)
Central Midfielder (4): Emil Forsberg (Sweden, RB Leipzig), Amadou Haidara (Mali, RB Leipzig), Konrad Laimer (Austria, RB Leipzig), Naby Keita (Guinea, Liverpool)
Wingers/Attacking Midfielders (5): Mohamed Salah (Egypt, Liverpool), Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, Algeria), Luis Diaz (Colombia, Liverpool), Elif Elmas (North Macedonia, Napoli), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia, AS Roma)
Strikers (3): Erling Haaland (Norway, Manchester City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon, FC Barcelona) Sébastien Haller (Ivory Coast, Ajax)
First of all, let’s acknowledge that, despite any limitation I put on myself, this team is *stacked like pancakes*. Almost every player plays in a traditional Top 5 league in Europe, many of which are Champions League caliber, and those who aren’t are at the very least playing on mid-table teams if not Europa League or Conference League teams. This team would pretty easily be competitive at the World Cup. Most of these players fell into one of four categories of my decision making process.
The Easy Choices. I found some national teams where one player stood out amongst the rest and made me say “Well I gotta pick him”. This includes, Salah, Aubameyang, Mahrez, Haaland, Haidara, Keita, Ndidi, Skriniar, Oblak, and Vlachodimos. While these mostly seemed like obvious choices, some did eliminate other good players from selection. For example, by picking Haaland, arguably the best young striker in the world, I eliminate the option of picking Martin Ødegaard, who isn’t at Haaland’s level, but is still a great player in his own right. Similarly with picking Mahrez over Bennacer from Algeria. Bennacer is a great player, but not as great as Mahrez. This is also where I noticed “Between, Salah, Haidara, and Keita, I have some players used to playing in a high press. Maybe I should run with that”.
Difficult Decisions. There were some teams where I had to pick between two or three solid players of a similar level. In these cases, it depended on what positions I needed and whether I thought they would fit my “high pressing” scheme. This includes Colombia, Ivory Coast, Sweden, Scotland, Chile. Luis Diaz, Andy Robertson, and Emil Forsberg were all selected over their countrymen because each of them play on club teams that like to press. Instead of Diaz, I could have chosen Colombia’s ‘keeper Ospina. Picking Forsberg eliminated Lindeloff from Sweden as a right-back. Picking Robertson eliminated Tierney and McTominay from Scotland as a left-back and central midfielder, respectively.
Wealth of Riches. There were a few teams where I could pick almost any player from their Starting XI to fit into this roster. The obvious team being Italy who won the 2020 European Championship, and then somehow flopped in World Cup qualification for a second cycle in a row. It is perhaps because of Italy’s quality that I chose their goalkeeper, Donnarumma, as my sole Italian. A ‘keeper can often have the most influence on a game relative to any individual field player. Plus, Italy’s defensive record is a large part of what won them that 2020 Euro’s tournament. Austria also provided me with plenty of options but again my high press theme made Laimer an easy choice as he is a teammate with Haidara and Forsberg at Leipzig. Although, it wasn’t easy to leave off Alaba after he and Real Madrid won the Champions League this season.
Filling in the Gaps. Lastly I had to assess where I was missing players in my roster. This is where positional needs pushed some players ahead of others on their national team. For example, I was in need of right-backs and found Celik from Turkey. On the other hand, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Turkey’s captain, might be a “higher profile” player in the eyes of many. Then again, Çalhanoğlu doesn’t seem to fit my high press scheme, so he would likely start on my bench. Am I going to bring Çalhanoğlu as a sub and then dig deeper at the right-back spot? For me, it made more sense to bring Celik. This is also the point where I found some fun standouts who usually wouldn’t be included in these “Rest of World” teams. This included Albanian defender Hysaj, Elif Elmas of North Macedonia, and Masuaku of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Honorable Mentions. These are the players who stood out on their national teams but missed the cut for me: Omar Alderete (Paraguay, Valencia), Amir Rrahmani (Kosovo, Napoli), Yangel Herrera (Venezuela, Espanyol), Edin Džeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Inter Milan), Eldor Shomurodov (Uzbekistan, Roma), Amir Murillo (Panama, Anderlecht), Alberth Elis (Honduras, Bordeaux), Michail Antonio (Jamaica, West Ham), Lukáš Hrádecký (Finland, Bayer Leverkusen), and Mu’nas Dabbur (Israel, 1899 Hoffenheim), Chris Wood (New Zealand, Newcastle United).
Lastly, how well would this team would do at the World Cup? 19 out of 26 of these players will be playing Champions League next year with 4 more playing in Champions League Qualifying, Europa League, or Conference League. This compares relatively well to teams which are considered favorites to win the competition, such as France, Brazil, England, and Germany. Of course, this team would have much less chemistry, so they would likely not play as cohesively as the favorites. At the same time, no one can scout them since they never played together before this. I think the disadvantages of being an All-Star-style team outweigh any advantages. Therefore, I would not call them favorites, but I think you could call them contenders. I would expect them to at least make it out of their group, likely win their Round of 16 game, and put in a good fight in the quarter-finals.
That’s all I have, let me know if you have a different “Rest of World” roster of your own! Hit me up at @BeardedJack on Twitter.