The Squad: Group Stage

To begin with, we must admit that this year, the rules for making your squad are treacherous. Literally! The limitations on the number of players per team along with the fixed budget have had us up all night scratching our brains on the best possible combination to make a point winning squad. It is obvious that that the rule makers want us to choose our squads whilst ensuring that we maintain a uniformity in terms of players across all groups and teams. But this makes it impossible to have the Ronaldo’s and the Yaya’s and the Cassilas’ all in a single team! The rule makers may counter by maintaining that there are other compensatory rules, like the player values remain constant, and the rules on choosing players get relaxed as the tournament matures in its further stages. Amidst all this hue and cry, one thing is certain that making a winning combination of 23 is going to be a stupendous task for one and all, even jobless football crazy fans like us! But we always try our best to deliver our honest opinions based on deductive logic and calculated reasoning.

Here are our top 23 picks for the Group stages.

 

Our combination of the playing 11 is based on our estimate of the playing time these players will get. That includes, confirmed starts, easy fixtures, minimal injuries, form, and of course affordability. Formation is pretty flexible too but after a lot of deliberation we decided to go with a 3-4-3 as it allows us to have the best players in the playing positions, and the same time helps us choose within our budget.

Goal Keepers

Julio Cesar (Team: Brazil; Price: 5.5M)

Guaranteed Play time + great form + fantastic for the pocket + Home team: Brazil! A combination of factors not only allow Cesar to make the cut, but also top our pecking order of keepers. Cesar is expected to play all the games in the group stage. Faced with a decent set of group fixtures, expect Brazil to let in very minimal number of goals. Also, a formidable attacking squad coupled with a rock solid defensive line increases the chances for Cesar to collect points in the way of clean sheets. The icing on the cake is that Cesar’s price on the fantasy site is only 5.5M, making him a very delicious buy in front of other top contenders like all-time favorites Neuer or Casillas.

Jasper Cillesen (Team: Netherlands; Price: 3M)

Another keeper that has found himself amongst the top of the pecking order, Cillesen is our second choice keeper for the group stages. Very affordable, and with some luck, the Dutchman may just get a couple of cleanies! Perfect backup option, no?

Rais M’bolhi (Team: Algeria; Price: 1M)

We can’t comment much about the goalkeeping skills of M’bolhi. Rather, we don’t bother to. The only reason he makes the cut is our budget constraints. So we went searching for the cheapest Goalies, and chose one who has the maximum chances of getting play time (in the worst case scenario that our earlier two keepers do not play on a particular day)

Defenders

Sergio Ramos (Team: Spain; Price: 7M)

We just couldn’t ignore this guy! Coming off of a Champions league victory with Real Madrid last month, the Spaniards form is noteworthy. Ramos will be the man to watch out for especially when he is on set pieces duty as he is known to lately score a lot of headed goals. A fantastic defender too, Ramos will be holding the fort for Spain with some of the world’s best defensive line-keepers, again making the Catalan a top contender for points. Spain’s only challenging encounter seems to be against Netherlands, notwithstanding that, expect a shower of points from the right back.

Jan Vertonghen (Team: Belgium; Price: 5.5M)

Although certainly not at the top of Belgium’s defensive choices, Vertonghen is expected to make the team’s starting lineup where they face the easiest group fixtures by far. Fairly economically priced too, Vertonghen’s recent form in the friendly matches gives us the feeling that this player has a lot of potential to deliver us some valuable points.

Bruno Martins Indi (Team: Netherlands; Price: 4.5M)

A promising young footballer such as Indi is always looking for a chance to implode at footballs greatest stage of competition. If you haven’t followed the Portuguese born Dutchman much, he had an impressive debut for the Netherlands where he created both the goals, and has ever since made the cut to the team’s first squad. An affordable price makes us even surer of our choice.

Marcos Rojo (Team: Argentina; Price: 4M)

A nailed on starter at left back for La Albiceleste, and with an affordable price tag of just 4M, this versatile defender (plys his trade as a regular Centre half for Sporting Clube de Portugal) is quite the bargain buy. With his fellow defenders being in the range of 5-6M, this cut-price backdoor option into Argentina’s defence is quite a good investment in our opinion. And the fact that he has hit the net 4 times at club level this season, helps his cause.

Jose Cholevas (Team: Greece; Price: 2.5M)

With a lackluster forward line which is found lacking more often than not, this attack-minded, set piece taking full back might just be the key to Greece’s tactics. Having scored a majority of their goals from set-pieces in the qualifiers, Jose looks like the right man to rack up a couple of assists in the group stages, while also providing defensive stability at the back. Add to that a bargain price of just 2.5M, and you have a safe backup option here.

Hossein Mahini (Team: Iran; Price: 1M)

The only talent Mahini possesses for making our list of Special23 is the sale price-tag. ‘Nuff said.

Pejman Montazeri (Team: Iran; Price: 1M)

Same as above. Thank god they have a team such as Iran so that we can choose players from there and make a squad of 23 players within our budget of 100M!!

Midfielders

Andres Iniesta (Team: Spain; Price: 8.5M)

If there is any mid-fielder who could justify a price-tag (highest for a mid) of 8.5M, it’s THIS guy. The main cog in the well-oiled perfect machinery that is the Spanish midfield, Iniesta is the guy who makes it all tick. With an uncanny knack to delivery that inch-perfect pass game after game, and the ability to pop into dangerous areas suddenly out of nowhere (he’s a Spanish ninja….if there ever was one) and score a beauty, Iniesta is our top choice midfielder through-out this World cup. Just buy him…no questions asked.

Ivan Rakitic (Team: Croatia; Price: 7.5M)

Rakitic will be arriving at the World Cup with a stellar season under his belt in the La Liga, where he notched up an impressive 10 goals and 12 assists for Sevilla. Together with the energetic Luka Modric, he will form a mid-field pairing bursting with creative talent, which will be pivotal to Croatia’s excellent counter-attacking tactics. Add to that set-piece duties, and you have a perfect opportunity to reel in those points throughout the group stages.

Granit Xhaka (Team: Switzerland; Price: 6M)

The Swiss mid-fielder has done justice to his selection in the final squad and has an intense work rate to boast of. Also being placed in a relatively easy group, Switzerland would be hoping that Xhaka delivers for them at the right moment and takes them through to the next stage of the tournament

Kevin de Bruyne (Team: Belgium; Price: 5.5M)

While he was restricted to the bench in the first few qualifying matches for Les Diables Rouges, his 4 goals and 4 assists in the following matches (8 starts) has confirmed his position as a nailed on starter as part of a forward trio consisting of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. Though he might not have the appeal of spot kicks like his compatriot Hazard, but looking at his reasonable price and current form, he might be a wiser option to have on your team.

Mathieu Valbuena (Team: France; Price: 5M)

Valbuena has been a regular on-off with the French side of late, and is also not expected to start all group games for France. But having started six of the final seven qualifying matches and racking up an impressive tally of 5 assists, he has more than merited his spot in the starting lineup. With a recent showing of three assists in a warm-up game against Norway, Valbuena looks to be the man to watch out for in the French squad. Also…5M (and don’t we just love those budget mid-fielders)

Ki Sung Yeung (Team: S.Korea; Price: 5.5M)

Playing in the double pivot alongside Park Jung-woo, Lee seems most likely to start for the Taeguk Warriors. With an eye for distributing long balls from deep, and popping in a shot at goal now and then, Ki looks to be a good back-up midfield option for our side. Considering the group Korea are placed in, we predict Ki could do his bit by racking up a few points along the way.

Nabil Bentaleb (Team: Algeria; Price: 1M)

Selected simply due to budget limitations. Not much of any other reason. Oh wait, Spurs player! That should count a bit in his favor I guess!

Bakhtiar Rahmani (Team: Iran; Price: 1M)

Same as above. Budget crunch.

Attackers

Romelu Lukaku (Team: Belgium; Price: 6M)

The Belgian made a first impression on me when he (for the lack of a better word) ‘missed’ that last penalty against Bayern Munich in the Supercup match. After that horrendous slipup and the eventual loan to Everton, the Belgian has come a long way and has had an impressive season. Having picked up an ankle injury early on during the friendlies, Lukaku is reported to be fit for the group stage fixtures. His presence will be ominous in the absence of fellow Belgian and EPL counterpart Benteke, who was earlier ruled out of the tournament. Certainly going to be the target of many players, owing to his raging form and the easy group stage fixtures.

Robin van Persie (Team: Netherlands; Price: 8.5M)

After a forgettable season in the EPL and having been out of action for the most part of it, van Persie is fully fit and raring to have a go! The Dutchman has had an impressive outing in the qualifying fixtures, racking up an impressive 11 goals along the way. His red hot form for the Oranje has continued into the warm-up fixtures where he has found the net quite a number of times. RVP is our main striker choice up front, and you can rest assured that he’s going to be banging in those goals right through the group stages.

Edin Dzeko (Team: Bosnia and Herzegovina; Price: 7M)

Dzeko picked up his form during the closing stages of the EPL and helped City drub Liverpool to clinch their third trophy in two years. The form has certainly continued as one could see during the warm up matches. Bosnia and Herzegovina will definitely be counting on Dzeko to at least see them through to the next round, and he is sure to contribute with at least a handful of goals.

Islam Slimani (Team: Algeria; Price: 2M)

Budget reasons hence selection

Mario Gavranovic (Team: Switzerland; Price: 3M)

Budget reasons. Plus we hear that Mario has had an impressive league season, helping his side win the Swiss cup. A good buy in terms of points if required.

 

That’s our selection of the Special23 along with the Playing 11 for the group stages. We will be back with another article soon when it’s time for the eliminators! In the meantime, do let us know of your thoughts/suggestions/ideas since we believe in continuous, progressive improvement. Your views might just help us become better than what we are now!