Great players on obscure national teams

When I read that Seydou Keita, usually the first man off the sub’s bench for a Barcelona team that has three of the best midfielders in the world, is from Mali, I wondered how many players were like him? Immensely talented, yet forever stuck on a poor international team. This is a team of similar players: Antonio Valencia, Dimitar Berbatov, Goran Pandev- players who are on one of the best club teams in the world, and also asked to carry the national team on their backs.

I soon ran into a problem. Did Poland count as a “small” international team? What about Colombia? Romania? I decided to pick players from teams ranked 70- Mali is actually 72nd- and under in the FIFA rankings (later 60).

The point of my XI wasn’t really how good the international team was, and you know how the FIFA rankings are, but this helped eliminate any bias, and gave me an easy way to decide which countries to include (sorry, Berbatov and Benayoun fans).

The players didn’t have to be on a big club, or country that isn’t known for soccer, but those players would be chosen ahead of similarly talented players, that didn’t have those things going for them.

Using a 3-5-2/3-3-3-1 formation:

Wayne Hennessey, GK,  Wales, Wolves: Whenever I watched Wolves, he was the key to keeping his team in the game.

Mehdi Benatia, CB,  Morocco, Udinese: What a first season in Serie A!

Bruno Ecuele Manga, CB, Gabon, Lorient: Like Samba, huge, physical, and commanding, while still young and raw. Several other African defenders have similar qualities.

Christopher Samba, CB, Congo, Blackburn: Transfer target for several big Premier League clubs.

Ryan Giggs, M, Wales, Manchester United

Darren Fletcher, M, Scotland, Manchester United

Seydou Keita, M, Mali, Barcelona

Antonio Valencia, W, Ecuador, Manchester United

Gareth Bale, W, Wales, Spurs: Yes, he’s overrated. However still an easy decision to put him into this team.

Goran Pandev, SST, Macedonia, Inter Milan

Emmanuel Adebayor, CF, Togo, Manchester City: I’m still wondering why Real Madrid picked him, of all strikers.

THE BENCH

Rodney Strasser, Sierra Leone, Milan

Brede Hangeland, Finland, Fulham: I had to have at least one defensive sub, right?

Jose Salomon Rondon, Venezuela, Malaga: Made the list because of a lack of forwards, and the 49 in the Castrol Rankings. Backs up Adebayor in this team.

Marouane Chamakh, Morocco, Arsenal: Didn’t solve the Arsenal crisis, but shouldn’t have been expected to. Plays Second Striker, and can set up goals, or score on set pieces.

McDonald Mariga, Kenya, Inter Milan: Of my subs, Mariga, Kharja, and Strasser are all midfielders.

Houssine Kharja, Morocco, Genoa: That makes three Moroccans, a defender, a midfielder, and a forward.

GOALKEEPER RANKINGS

2. Ali Al-Habsi, Oman, Wigan: Don’t confuse him with Egyptian El Hadary.

3. Wojciech Szczesny, Poland, Arsenal: Still only 20, and no need to rush.

4. Jussi Jaaskelainen, Finland, Bolton: Ahead of Al-Habsi when the Omani was at Bolton.

5. Artur Boruc, Poland, Fiorentina: Second best in a strong bunch of Polish goalies.

This was far from a conclusive study- I just looked at some top club squads, and some of the better country squads, plus Castrol Rankings. I am sure there are several good players who I left out (no Chelsea players here is eye catching), so please let me know if you can think of any.

One interesting thing I got from this idea, was seeing which national teams should be doing better than they are with the player selection that they have.

So, tomorrow I’ll make a list of big international underachievers. Later this month, look out for reviews of Rounds 2 and 3 at the Copa, a preview of the quarter-finals, and the half-year in quotes.

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