The top ten most strongly-contested World Cup positions

March 5, 2010

Some international selection dilemmas are a case of “Who is the least bad?”. Others are a little more positive, and often result in top-class players being left out of squads. Here is a list of ten positions featuring tremendous competition ahead of the World Cup. (Leighton Baines v Stephen Warnock missed the cut.)

10. Portugal – wingers

It’s one of football’s mysteries how Portugal continue to produce such fine wingers, and yet such poor strikers. The two first-choice wide players for this tournament will probably be Simao Sabrosa and Nani, meaning Cristiano Ronaldo will be deployed in a central forward position. In addition, the exciting Fabio Coentrao of Benfica, and Silvestre Varela of Porto, will also be in Carlos Quieroz’s thinking. With Eliseu and Edinho waiting in the wings, it means poor old Ricardo Quaresma is probably Portugal’s eighth-choice wide player.

Robinho and Nilmar

9. Brazil – left-wing

Brazil play a very specific type of player in this position, as remarked upon here. It’s no secret that Brazil have always boasted top-quality attacking players, but for Dunga to be comfortable enough to leave out Ronaldinho, you know that Brazil are strong this year. The first-choice left-winger will be Robinho, although his back-up Nilmar is also one of Dunga’s favourites. Hoffenheim’s Carlos Eduardo might well be the next choice – meaning that Ronaldinho, one of the finest players of his generation, and a two-time World Player of the Year, is fourth-choice. His best bet might be if Dunga seems him as a replacement for Kaka, who doesn’t appear to have an obvious back-up in the squad.

8. Serbia – centre-backs

Serbia have four very competent centre-backs – Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic, Dortmund’s Neven Subotic, Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and Udinese’s Aleksander Lukovic. Vidic and Subotic will probably be the first-choice pairing, with Ivanovic shifted to the right-back role he often fills for Chelsea. Lukovic will be in contention with Lazio’s Aleksander Kloarov for the left-back slot, whilst Sevilla’s veteran Ivica Dragutinovic will provide cover. They might not be World-beaters, but the likes of England and France could do with that number of centre-back options.

7. Portugal – central midfielders

Considering Portugal can choose from a list including Tiago, Raul Meireles, Deco, Joao Moutinho, Pedro Mendes, Miguel Veloso and Maniche, it’s slightly surprising that Carlos Quieroz opted to play centre-back Pepe in a deep-lying midfield role throughout qualifying. His knee injury might rule him out of the tournament, so one of these players will get an unexpected call-up.

6. France – left-back

Of last seasons four Champions League semi-finalists, three of them featured French left-backs – Patrice Evra, Gael Clichy and Eric Abidal. Evra is certainly first-choice, and Clichy’s poor run of form has seen his squad place under threat. Abidal may be used as a centre-back, so Aly Cissokho, an exciting young Lyon player, might sneak in.

Robben, Sneijder and van Persie

5. Holland – attackers

Assuming the Dutch stick to their 4-2-3-1 system, their options for the ‘3′ are rather tasty: Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben, Elijero Elia and (hopefully) Robin van Persie. All of this makes you wonder how on earth Ryan Babel has managed to earn 38 Dutch caps at the age of just 23, but he’ll probably make the squad too. Kuyt may play as the central striker, in competition with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

4. Argentina – central midfielders

How can a manager afford not to pick Esteban Cambiasso, the heartbeat of the Inter side which has won Serie A for the past four seasons? Being as mad as Maradona helps, but having the likes of Javier Mascherano, Angel di Maria, Jesus Datolo, Mario Bolatti, Juan Veron, Javier Pastore, Fernando Gago, Lucho Gonzalez and Ever Banega also plays a part. Although Cambiasso is still a better player than all of them.

3. Brazil – right-back

Not neccessarily because of sheer numbers, but because the two best right-backs in the World are both Brazilian – Maicon and Dani Alves. Maicon is the strong favourite to start in South Africa, and Alves’ best hope of making the first team might be hoping for an injury to Ramires, the right-sided midfielder. Ilsinho, a right-back for Shakhtar Donetsk, might be a regular for any other country, but for Brazil he has just one cap. Cicinho and Juliano Belletti probably aren’t in Dunga’s top 100 players.

Iniesta and Xavi

2. Spain – central midfielders

No country produces as many world class players in one position as Spain produce ball-playing midfielders. This tournament will see the Barcelona trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets joined by Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso and Marcos Senna. Probably three will start, and it will be fascinating to see which players Vicente Del Bosque opts for, and in what system.

1. Argentina – fowards

No-one has any idea what Maradona is going to do at the World Cup, least of all Maradona himself. Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, Javier Saviola, Hernan Crespo, Martin Palermo, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lisandro Lopez, Maxi Rodriguez and even Julio Cruz would probably get into most World Cup squads. There’s more knocking about somewhere, but Maradona just needs to find three who can actually play well together. Messi, Tevez and Higuain looks a decent bet, with Aguero and Higuain the next port of call, although a place for 36-year-old Palermo would not be a surprise, despite the fact he made his international debut eleven years ago, and has only played eleven games since.