For Starters, It’s TieBreaker’s 2018 World Cup Super Team
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is finally upon us, meaning it’s time to pull out our vuvuzelas and party like it’s 2010!
Germany will look to conquer Russia as it did Brazil to claim the 2014 FIFA World Cup Trophy. Even with Germany’s surplus of talent, the other 31 teams boast a wealth elite players to make sure that won’t be an easy task.
With all of the supremely skilled athletes taking the pitch in Russia to compete against one another, it raises the question of what these top 32 World Cup teams would look like boiled down to one roster.
Here’s to dreaming of our ultimate superstar roster consisting of Russia’s 2018 World Cup competitors.
Center-Forward: Lionel Messi, Argentina
No surprise here. Argentina’s Lionel Messi is as easy as it gets for an automatic bid onto the 2018 World Cup super team. Messi has, in large part, been the best player in the world for years. Many even argue that the 5-foot-7 Argentine could be the greatest soccer player of all time.
Messi’s development into a superstar was not a slow process by any means. Only 18 at the time, he first debuted for the national team in August 2005. The young prodigy’s impact as a sub in the 2006 World Cup was crucial in getting Argentina to the quarterfinals, where the team finished sixth.
Despite Messi’s relatively unimposing stature, he’s found a way to utilize his lack of size. Fast footwork with the ball, coupled with explosive feet, allow for shifty ball work to quickly accelerate in any direction. Unparalleled dribbling is a key piece to how Messi is able to create opportunities for teammates and find the back of the net.
As Argentina’s captain in 2010, he once again led his team to the quarterfinals and a fifth-place finish in Greece, followed by a spectacular 2014 campaign that was enough for second place.
Outside of his international appearances, Messi’s list of accomplishments as a member of La Liga’s FC Barcelona is staggering. From 2008-17, Messi finished either first or second in voting for the Ballon d’Or award and tied for the most wins overall with five. Of course, that’s not to be outdone by his record five European Golden Shoes.
Since he joined Barcelona in 2005, the prolific goal-scorer has brought the club a jaw-dropping 32 trophies. Even deeming his scoring as “prolific” feels like an understatement, as he’s scored a combined 643 career goals (seventh all time) leading up to the 2018 World Cup.
Scrolling through the list of records Messi has set is like flipping through an encyclopedia. From club to world records, Messi will likely retire a mythical creature that future generations won’t entirely believe to have accomplished all that he did.
Right Wing: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
If Lionel Messi is the greatest player in the world, then it’s because Cristiano Ronaldo only lost that designation by a hair… one perfectly sculpted follicle of hair gifted by the soccer gods themselves.
There is no person better to serve as the face of The Beautiful Game than the most beautiful face in the sport, but Portugal’s 6-foot-1 stud does far more than make fans swoon.
The obvious, and undeniable, comparison between Ronaldo and Messi is that, like Messi, Real Madrid’s top talent is an unstoppable scoring machine. Ronaldo’s physicality is an asset, but it’s his spectacular vision and creativity both on and off the ball that create scoring opportunities for him and teammates.
Ronaldo sits just above Messi on the list all-time leading goal scorers at sixth place with 672. Years of shredding up defenses put him right alongside Messi with a record five Ballon d’Or awards, along with four European Golden Shoes.
From Ronaldo’s time with Manchester United to Real Madrid, the evolution of his game has landed him in various forward and attacking midfield positions, developing an eclectic set of skills across the field to command the game as a roaming forward.
At 33, Ronaldo may not be quite the unstoppable machine as his peak, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still one of the most elite athletes on the pitch at all times. With such a high soccer IQ, Ronaldo has found a more balanced approach to the game to conserve energy while remaining a focal point of the offense.
Left Wing: Neymar, Brazil
Why bother stopping with the only the two greatest players in the world? Let’s toss in No. 3 to complete the trifecta for the deadliest offensive threat on earth.
Brazil already enjoyed Neymar captaining their squad to a gold while hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, and he looks to be the leading force to take the top prize once again in Russia.
Neymar has already been playing with the best in the world, having been a teammate of Messi’s on Barcelona from 2013-17. Not only did the 26-year-old make 123 appearances with Barca while developing his game under the watchful eye of Messi, he also played alongside another one of the world’s greatest in Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.
Neymar’s time playing with two of the most dominant attackers in the game has done more than just help hone his skills and elevate his competitive edge, the experience has also taught Neymar how to work along side talent equal to (or greater than) his own abilities.
In making our over-the-top stacked 2018 World Cup squad, the time Neymar spent in Barca is imperative, as he’s already proven to have a natural scoring ability that is unfettered by distributing the ball which, being with two of the best forwards currently playing, is a necessity.
Like Ronaldo and Messi, what makes Neymar so dynamic is his creativity with the ball. If his explosive speed and deceptive footwork doesn’t leave his defenders in the dust, it opens space for teammates to get better looks.
Lined up as a left winger with Ronaldo clamping down the right and Messi controlling the middle? Whatever poor souls have the misfortune of might as well just stack the entire team in the penalty box and start praying to the soccer gods.
Center Midfielder: Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
The No. 1, 2 and 3 ranked players form a triangle of death up front that only gets scarier when introducing the pride of Belgian soccer, Kevin De Bruyne.
While Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar create opportunities out of thin air, De Bruyne will have no trouble dictating the pace of the game.
De Bruyne’s vision across the pitch is second to none. Whether pushed up to take on more of an attacking or serving in more of a traditional central mid role, Belgium’s playmaker is such a complete player that he undoubtedly elevates the play of his teammates in far and close proximity.
With the most brilliant, skilled group of World Cup participants surrounding him, De Bruyne is freer than ever to exercise his superior passing ability, threading the needle in tight spaces to find wingers out on the flanks expertly laid through-balls to put shots on goal.
What makes Belgium’s young star such a marvel is the way he simplifies the game, as his efforts on Manchester City have shown since joining in 2015. Rather than rely on individual skills, it’s his use of system play that continually pushes others into the perfect position.
This comes right back De Bruyne’s unrivaled vision. If there’s a chance to make a play that may put him or a teammate out of position, he’ll take it. There won’t be any worry of leaving a gap or weakside, because De Bruyne’s positioning ebbs and flows where he’s needed as tactically as his ball placement.
Defensive Midfielder: Luka Modric, Croatia
With the overwhelming talent already laid out front, this super squad is plenty equipped to run up the score (to put it lightly). That allows Croatia’s Luka Modric to fall back as a defensive midfielder.
Even when pulled back to a defensive role, Modric’s decisive mentality and expert ball control present a plethora of first-touch opportunities to immediately flip the switch from protecting the goal to pushing upfield.
Like De Bruyne, Modric belongs at the top of the list as one of the best midfielders in the game thanks to his adaptive playmaking ability, which developed as he transitioned from attacking midfielder in his time with Dinamo Zagreb and Tottenham to defensive mid with Real Madrid.
It isn’t dazzling footwork and ball-handling that makes Modric such an asset, rather a work ethic that can outhustle anyone on the field and a pass-first mindset that repeatedly sets his teammates up for success.
Without a doubt, Modric is the glue guy. Like a true deep-lying playmaker, the Croatian sensation uses each touch to conduct and create possessions for counter-attacks instead of a more simplistic, defensive mindset.
Named the Croatian Football Player of the Year six times, Modric has also been selected to the FIFA FIFPro XI first team the last three years and was selected to the first ever IFFHS Men’s World Team in 2017.
Defensive Midfiedler: Toni Kroos, Germany
When it comes to defensive midfielders, One is fun, but two is twice as nice.
For numerous reasons, there’s no better man for the job of joining than 28-year-old Toni Kroos of Germany. That makes a lot of sense, considering Kroos has been dismantling opposing clubs in La Liga alongside Luka Modric on Real Madrid since 2014.
The chemistry between Kroos and Modric is as good as any in the league, and Kroos’ selection to the 2017 IFFHS Men’ World Team proves just that (not to outshine three FIFA FIFPro World XI selections in the last four years).
Though Kroos’ forte is serving as an attacking midfielder, his boundless versatility makes for a dangerous playmaker anywhere on the field.
Kroos showed his innate ability to take over a game, control the pace and set his teammates up for success in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
While Kroos did play an integral role in Germany’s third-place finish in the 2010 World Cup, it was 2014 when he truly shined.
On his way to helping Germany win the 2014 World Cup, Kroos recorded the most assists of the tournament, earning him a number of individual awards, including the Castrol Performance Index Winner he earned after a nearly flawless performance. Through the entirety of the tournament, Kroos’ statistical breakdown was rated a 9.79 out of 10!
Between Kroos and Modric’s dizzying changes of pace and rhythm, even the most physically fit opponents would be worked to exhaustion trying to fall back on defense after losing enough possessions.
Center Back: Jerome Boateng, Germany
Hmm, is Germany is stacked to the gills enough yet? If you don’t think so, no worries. There’s another, but first, Jerome Boateng.
Along with the next German national-teamer, Boateng has been a staple defender on the Bundesliga’s most dominant club (by a landslide), Bayern Munich.
Following suit with his other national teammates, Boateng has represented Germany at the World Cup in 2010 and 2014, taking home bronze and gold respectively… Seriously, Germany is holding down the fort on this super team with the experience and medals.
Sitting at center back, Boateng serves as the first line of defense in protecting the goal. Boateng utilizes his superior strength and power to wear down opponents, yet he balances aggressive physicality with a controlled touch that is deceptively soft.
Boateng’s well deserved reputation as a hard-nosed defender was perfectly illustrated on the biggest stage in the world when Germany faced Argentina in the 2014 World Cup. In an extremely tight 1-0 match, Boateng was outstanding, asserting his dominance by winning 83 percent of 50-50 balls.
Part of what makes Boateng’s physical play such an asset is that it is “controlled.” The German center back is constantly involved in tackles and man-to-man defense, yet committing a foul is a rare offense for him.
Instead, Boateng minimizes errors with a measured and confident approach – second guessing is not in his vocabulary. That absolute certainty is what makes Boateng a top defender with a suffocating presence around strikers.
Center Back: Gerard Pique, Spain
Spain’s Gerard Pique is a force on defense. Standing at 6-foot-4, his size is an undeniable asset that has helped lift Barcelona to new heights since first appearing for the La Liga giant in 2008.
Along with Pique’s imposing frame is a tactical approach to the game that puts him 10 steps ahead of his opponent.
With soccer continually ramping up in speed, elite defenders must be far more than tough to get the job done, and Pique has the agility to make for the ideal modern defenseman. Between his physicality, speed and on-field intelligence, Pique is a remarkably well-rounded weapon.
Pique has collected numerous awards for his individual efforts on the field and various team successes. Among his top achievements are winning the 2012 UEFA European Championship, which he played every minute of the tournament, and placing second in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
The is no more notable accomplishment than his pivotal role in helping Spain win the 2010 World Cup. Pique played a critical role in getting Spain to the title. A perfect illustration of just how incredible his performance throughout every match was can be seen in the scores. After conceding two goals in the group stage, Spain didn’t allow another goal the entire tourney.
Whether he’s needed to push up and take over as a defensive midfielder or fall back to stake out as a sweeper, his adept passing and ball-handling makes him as dangerous on the ground as his height makes him a threat in the air.
This type of adaptability is what makes Pique one of the most unique defenders in the game today. Going against the grain of most backs, he is sporadically utilized as a scoring option, giving opposing clubs an added wrinkle to figure out a way to defend.
Left Back: Marcelo, Brazil
Holding down the fort at left back is Brazil’s own, Marcelo. The 30-year-old has quite the impressive repertoire of fantastic individual and team accomplishments that have brought praise from some of the all-time greats across the world, including all-star talent like Paolo Maldini and the legendary Diego Maradona.
Marcelo has had plenty of time to build up an impressive resume on the international stage, as he has represented the Brazilian national team since 2006. Although the left back was on the team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he did not see action until the 2014 Cup, in which Brazil hosted and placed fourth.
Though Marcelo only got a chance to show off his skills at one World Cup prior to Russia, he saw plenty of action at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, where he helped earn a bronze and silver medal respectively.
Along with Marcelo’s proven abilities on the international stage with Brazil – his efforts in 2014 earned him earned him a spot on the FIFA World Cup Dream Team – is his time spent in La Liga where he has been a cornerstone of Real Madrid’s defense since 2006.
Before even leaving for Real Madrid in ’06, he was named to Brazil’s Serie A Team of the Year and continued to assert his dominance overseas. It all came to a head in 2011 when was named to the UEFA Team of the Year for his efforts in winning the Copa del Rey with Real.
Since then, his success on Real has been right up there with the biggest names in terms of both individual awards, like his four FIFA FIFPro World XI first team selections, and team awards like his three UEFA Super Cups and FIFA Club World Cups.
Yeah, safe to say that Marcelo has the left side locked down.
Right Back: Sergio Ramos, Spain
Right there with Gerard Pique holding down the penalty box back for the Spanish national team has been the beloved Sergio Ramos.
In fact, Ramos has represented Spain on the international stage dating all the way back to 2005! That means the 2018 World Cup will make this not one… not two… not three, but his FOURTH World Cup.
Talk about defying Father Time.
The experience Ramos brings to Spain is indescribable having already participated in three Cups, which makes him the perfect captain. Important as Pique was to Spain in their 2010 World Cup championship, it was Ramos who served as the team’s captain, a key role he still holds today.
Not only has Ramos been Spain’s captain through two World Cups prior to his third in Russia, his venerable leadership has also spilled into his professional career in Spain, where he has been Real Madrid’s captain since 2015.
Ramos proved himself worthy of the captaincy for years before earning his armband, having played for Real since 2005. The success Real has experienced since Ramos took over as captain has been remarkable. In his three years leading the team, Real has hoisted the UEFA Champion Clubs’ Cup three consecutive years.
Between Ramos’ experience serving as captain for one of the most watched and successful teams in the world on the international and club level, there is no one more qualified to serve as a vocal leader of the core group protecting the net.
The 32-year-old defender has a laundry list of individual accolades to go along with his championships. From his record (for defenders) eight FIFPro World XI first team selections and record four La Liga Best Defender titles to his four La Liga and Champions League titles, Ramos know winning as well as anyone.
Keeper: Manuel Neuer, Germany
When it comes to world class goalkeepers, there are two names that immediately come to mind: Spain’s David De Gea and Germany’s Manuel Neuer.
Much of the world is divided on who deserves the title of top dog guarding the goal line, but there is one thing that makes Neuer the best man for the job – loads of experience.
Neuer, 32, made his first appearance on the German national team in 2009 and has since capped 76 total times leading up to Russia. The tragic death of Germany’s number one keeper, Robert Enke, in November 2009, followed by an injury of the number two keeper, Rene Adler, thrust Neuer into the starting role for the 2010 World Cup. He stepped up to the challenge, helping Germany to a third-place finish.
Four years later, Neuer was a cornerstone to Germany’s success, creating a nightmare matchup for opposing clubs with his “sweeper-keeper” style of play that was pivotal in carrying the club to win the 2014 World Cup. Neuer’s individual efforts in Brazil also earned him the Golden Glove award for the best keeper of the tournament.
Neuer’s signature sweeper-keeper approach – his speed and ball-handling allow him to rush other opposing forwards and act as a second sweeper – to his position essentially makes him act as an 11th outfielder on the field. This oddity can quickly flip an opposing club’s offensive attack into an undermanned defensive position.
There is far more than international experience to support Neuer’s top goalie status. Since 2011 he’s built a resume that backs up his “best” status and then some as a member of the Bundesliga’s powerhouse club, Bayern Munich.
In all but his first season with the club, Neuer has helped Bayern Munich win the German championship title. Neuer also won the 2013 UEFA Super Cup and the following year finished third in FIFA’s highly esteemed Ballon d’Or award behind only Messi and Ronaldo.
Between his individual and team success, there’s no secret to why Neuer is serving as Germany’s captain in 2018 and why he belongs on this World Cup roster of All-Stars.