Latin America has provided some of the world’s greatest players over the beautiful game’s history. Players that have lit up the World Cup and created moments that are forever entrenched in the competition’s history.
With 7 representatives in the competition, a plethora of talent is jetting into Russia from the vast region and in the following article, we take a look at the pinnacle of those stars. Imagining a hypothetical independent Latin American state, who would make the 23 man squad needed for the competition and more importantly; who would claim a place in the starting line-up?
How many of the men feature in our Potential Argentina Starting XI piece would make the cut?
The Team (4-2-3-1):
Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez (Panama)
Goalkeeper: Alisson (Brazil)
Any stopper strong enough to have Manchester City’s Ederson watching on from the bench has to be more than worth his salt and that’s definitely the case for Roma keeper Alisson, who has developed into one of the world’s finest in his position over the last year.
Alisson comes into the competition in peak condition after an excellent season with his club, helping the Italians to the Champions League semi-finals, as well as a third placed league finish. On the international front, Alisson was an integral part of the team the breezed through South American qualification and already holds the 6th highest amount of clean sheets in Brazil’s history, keeping a remarkable 16 in just 25 appearances.
Right back: Santiago Arias (Colombia)
Dani Alves’ injury would have left this spot up for grabs in our hypothetical line-up and it’s Colombia right back Santiago Arias who looks the best man to replace him. If rumours are to be believed, Arias is set for a big money move away from current side PSV, for whom he’s provided great service, picking up 3 league medals, including one from the season just ended.
One of the Eredivisie’s best players, equally capable of bombing forward as fulfilling defensive duties, Arias has also been an ever-present in the Colombian team in recent years and will play a key part in any potential success Los Cafeteros have in Russia this year.
Centre back: Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina)
A man questioned in the not so distant past; but now up there with the world’s best centre backs; Nicolas Otamendi. Otamendi has benefited massively from working with Pep Guardiola at club Manchester City and is now the definition of a complete centre half. Aerially dominant, physically imposing and excellent on the ball, Otamendi was a key figure in the City side that romped to the Premier League title.
On the international stage, the 30 year old will be looking to hold together a relatively uninspiring back line and is a key figure in the Argentina dressing room. Having been left out La Albiceleste squad in 2014, Otamendi will be desperate to make up for lost time by maintaining his excellent performance levels once the action begins.
Centre back: Diego Godin (Uruguay)
Uruguay skipper Diego Godin partners Otamendi in our team. An example of defensive mastery year after year, Godin travels to Russia off the back of yet another excellent season at club level, part of an Atletico Madrid team that lifted the Europa League and conceded a league low 22 goals in La Liga action.
At 32 years old, and with 103 international caps, Godin oozes class and experience and has been an integral piece in the Uruguayan side at each of the last 2 World Cups. Alongside club partner Jose Maria Gimenez, Godin allows La Celeste to come into the competition with one of the strongest centre back pairings on offer.
Left back: Marcelo (Brazil)
There can be absolutely no debate whatsoever at left-back, with Marcelo coming in. Arguably the best player in a generation in his role, Marcelo has been at the absolute peak of world football year upon year.
Named in the FIFPro World XI in each of the last 3 seasons, Marcelo is an outstanding player and ticks every box the modern full-back requires, making him a key feature in a Brazilian side gunning for their sixth World Cup title in Russia.
Defensive midfielder: Casemiro (Brazil)
The man doing the dirty work in Real Madrid’s three consecutive Champions League wins is the next man in our team and would be a key part in holding it together. At times criticised for his aggressive, no-nonsense approach, Casemiro provides steely protection often lacked in numerous Latin American sides over the years.
Having started 6 games at the last World Cup, Casemiro now has experience of the competition under his belt and will be looking for a happier ending this time around, after playing the full 90 minutes in the infamous 7-1 defeat to Germany. A proven winner at the highest level, little questions can be asked of the 26 year old.
Defensive midfielder: Fernandinho (Brazil)
Another place; another Brazilian. As nice as it would be to spread around the slots more evenly, when you’ve qualified in as rampant a fashion as Brazil did, it’s hard to do so and Fernandinho played his part in doing that.
At 33, Fernandinho arrives off the back of probably his best season to date, putting in unbelievably consistent performances and providing the platform for the more creative players in a dominant Manchester City side to work their magic. With a relatively low 43 craps, the Londrina born holder hasn’t always been an integral part of the Brazilian setup but certainly will be in the forthcoming tournament.
Right wing: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
The star of the team and one of the greatest players Latin America has ever produced, if not the greatest. A 5 time Ballon d’Or winner, you really don’t need us to tell you Messi’s extraordinary talent and he arrives in just as exceptional shape for the World Cup, having plunged home 45 club goals last season.
Messi is so much more than a goalscorer however, and is the heartbeat of whatever system he plays in. A master of the ball who takes away the breath in every game he plays, Argentina’s number 10 almost single handedly dragged his nation to Russia and will have to perform at his very highest level for them to have any success there.
Attacking midfielder: James Rodriguez (Colombia)
One of the stars of the 2014 World Cup is the perfect man for our attacking midfielder place and holds off impressive competition to make the cut. Rodriguez’s showings in Brazil earned him a big money move to Real Madrid and despite controversially being shipped out of the Spanish giants on loan, he’s remained at the very top with German champions Bayern Munich.
Internationally, he’s Colombia’s talisman, evidenced by notching 6 goals in 13 qualification matches and will once again looking to impress on the highest of stages, having claimed the Golden Boot in the last edition of the competition.
Left wing: Neymar (Brazil)
Injury looked to have cruelly denied Neymar’s World Cup dreams once again but the PSG maverick managed to make a goalscoring return in the Seleção’s friendly win over Croatia and appears as fit as ever going into the tournament.
Injured in the quarter-finals at the last World Cup, Brazil suffered in their main man’s absence and now one of the world’s finest players will be looking to make up for that by spearheading a charge for the trophy. 6 goals in qualification and 54 goals in 84 games overall for Brazil demonstrates Neymar’s outstanding ability and he’s been one of the game’s greatest performers both at club and international level for numerous years.
Forward: Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
Spearheading the attack is Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani; one of the game’s most complete forwards. Plunging home a frightening 28 Ligue 1 goals in 32 matches during PSG’s cruise to the title, Cavani arrives at the peak of his powers.
At 31, Russia will likely be the stage of Cavani’s last World Cup and his importance to the Uruguayan side, alongside partner Luis Suarez is no better emphasised by the fact he scored 10 times in 15 qualification matches. Cavani is one of the deadliest strikers at the competition and is more than worthy of wrapping up our starting XI.
Cavani was also named as they key man in our analysis of Uruguay’s World Cup squad.
On the bench:
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
Thiago Silva (Brazil)
Jose Maria Gimenez (Uruguay)
Nicolas Tagliafico (Argentina)
Hector Herrera (Mexico)
Philippe Coutinho (Brazil)
Christian Cueva (Peru)
Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
Sergio Aguero (Argentina)
Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)
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