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All-World XI

If you could build a team out of whatever players you wanted, who would be in your starting eleven? How would they line up? How would they play, and how would you try to play against them?

Here's my take:

Formation: 4-2-1-3-0 (strikerless)


Hugo Lloris, of Lyon and France, is my netminder. He didn't have a particularly impressive expedition to South Africa, but the current crop of professional goalkeepers isn't too spectacular, and he's young enough to get even better. Realistically you could make an argument for any any number of keepers here.

I'm playing with a traditional back four, with Benfica/Portugal's Fabio Coentrao at left back. I'm tempted to pick Ashley Cole here, but while he's been the best left back in the world for a good amount of his career, age is going to be catching up with him any time soon. Plus, he's expensive and he's a bit of a tool. Coentrao is 22 and plays a very attacking style - he actually plays left wing for his club. However, he's always shown more defensive responsibility than most wide midfielders, and his time with Portugal has been very impressive. Good enough defensively, big contributions down the left touchline on attack.

Walter Samuel and Brazil's Lucio are my centre halves, because you can't really go wrong with just thieving from Inter Milan's back line.

Right back is reserved for Philipp Lahm, although I could be tempted away from the German defender. I can't think of any world-class stay at home outside defenders, and my hope is that Lahm would be disciplined enough to stay relatively deep and provide cover - I certainly have less need for width down the right side than the left, and we'll see later.

Esteban Cambiasso is the first of the deep midfielders, acting in a shielding role. The holding midfielder is probably the most important position on the field in soccer's current tactical incarnation, and here we have the best. That Jose Mourinho character knew what he was doing. Michael Essien partners him, playing slightly further up the field. The Ghanaian superstar can sit in front of the back four alongside Cambiasso or launch himself into attack. The offensive ability of the two fullbacks and Essien are required to avoid simply being a split 6-4 team and eases the transitions through midfield.

Xavi Hernandez conducts his magic in the centre of the pitch. Spain's key man's best attribute is his patience and vision, and that plays perfectly with a strikerless style. With midfielders making runs towards the danger zones, rather than static strikers merely occupying those areas, Xavi will be able to spot a chink in the defenders' armour, and he has the touch to exploit it mercilessly.

His passing options are David Villa, Lionel Messi, and Arjen Robben. Villa has an eye for goal and the ability to pick up the ball in a wide position and work it into the penalty area. Although he's typically considered a striker, I think Villa's more effective in his role for Spain, playing withdrawn on the left before exploding into space generated by short passing movements. Once he's in a dangerous position, he's amongst the top finishers in the world. The space generated by tucking inside can be filled by Coentrao, and one of the defensive midfield duo can fill in the gap caused by the left back's ventures forward. I should probably have used Christiano Ronaldo here, but in my ideal world a killer whale has castrated him and he's no longer available to play.

Messi is Messi. Capable of taking two or three players out of the game at once when in possession, the Argentine genius also works very well off the ball, and he's so feared he'll drag defenders away from other threats, opening up space for Xavi and Villa to exploit. The goals are also nice. Robben provides blistering pace down the flanks and is able to cut inside and shoot whenever he feels like it. He provides a quick outlet for counterattacks should the opposing team over-commit and the ball is turned over in midfield. With a Villa/Messi/Robben trio running at a defence, you should see some defenders losing their men and position, especially is there's any criss-crossing between the Barcelona pair.

So, it's something close to an irresistible attacking team built on an extremely solid defensive foundation. While it's fun to focus on the attackers, the keys to the team are probably Essien, Lahm, and Coentrao - they're the only players with dual responsibilities and the team will be reliant on them to bridge the gap between defence and attack.

How would you have to play against my World XI? This is probably more interesting than building it. I'm not the world's best tactician, but the aerial ability of the forwards isn't anything approaching world class, an obvious weakness. Cede the wide areas to Villa and Robben, funnel them outward as much as possible. Messi gets a dedicated marker a la Marquez in the Mexico-Argentina game. The defence must keep shape as centrally as possible and look to draw as many players into the attack. Xavi won't get flustered, but pressing him and forcing him to make short, safe passes is significantly better than giving him the time to eviscerate the back line.

As long as one can blunt the attack for long enough, a counterattack is possible, as long as the team can break out with enough players to get the ball past Cambiasso. Attacks have to be direct unless there's a Drogba-type who can get on the end of crosses. All in all, though, it would be very difficult to keep the team off the scoresheet, never mind scoring yourself.

Anyway, that's my team. Now let's hear from y'all. Use favourite players, the most talented at a given position, or a team you feel would work well together. Should be a fun game, right?