2021 Best XI Continent Edition: South America
What would happen if each continent’s best stars formed to create a super team? You’re about to find out. This is going to be a six-part installment where I comprise a starting XI for each continent’s soccer confederation, with this chapter featuring South America – the North America XI has already been featured here. This is a squad laden with talent and could very well be the best squad featured.
It’s no secret that the continent of South America has been blessed with attacking talent, and this squad is no exception. You’ve got Lionel Messi, Neymar, and more upfront with a fairly secure backline. With that being said, I tinkered with loads of formations but settled on a back three in order to accommodate the barrage of attackers in this team. The formation is a 3-1-3-3.
Goalkeeper: Ederson, 27, Brazil
This continent has the deepest goalkeeping roster in the world, and I will stand by it. We’ve got Alisson, Ederson, and Emi Martinez on a 23-man roster, and they are all nearing or in their prime. That is the cream of the crop when it comes to potential candidates, and while Martinez’s run at 2021 Copa America certainly impressed, Ederson is still the number one choice. The Manchester City goalkeeper is so impressive with his feet, he is a good shot-stopper, and he is agile. Still, you can’t go wrong with any of the aforementioned keepers.
Left Center-Back: Marquinhos, 27, Brazil
Marquinhos may be a tad out of position here on the left, but there’s no doubt he can adjust. The Brazilian center-back’s trophy cabinet is stuffed with hardware. He’s in the prime of his career and is a strong defender. The PSG star is very sound technically, is a good presence in the box on set pieces, and is no stranger to 1v1 match-ups on the pitch (and he certainly isn’t afraid of them either).
Central Center-Back: Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil
The anchor to this backline. He plays in a back three at Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel, so it makes sense that I have him in this central role. His presence alone is calming, and he can help direct the traffic here. Seeing as he already plays with every member of this defensive front anyways, it is an ideal match.
Right Center-Back: Danilo, 30, Brazil
He played as the right-back for a Brazil team that conceded three goals in seven matches at Copa America. This is a less than traditional role, but he does pass well out of the back, and I hope that by having him on the right side of the pitch that he will feel a bit more comfortable.
Defensive Midfielder: Casemiro, 29, Brazil
As if it could be anybody else in this position? He’s a top five defensive midfielder in the world right now, arguably even top three, and is a standout player for Real Madrid and Brazil. Casemiro is in the prime of his career. He is a physical player that will sit just above the trio of center-backs as another line of defense against the opposition. There’s not much more to say.
Left Wing-Back: Nicolás Tagliafico, 28, Argentina
Tagliafico has really improved his stock since joining Ajax in 2018. He’s a full-back that likes to get forward, so in this South America XI, he gets to do just that. While there is no single great aerial threat in the attack, Tagliafico could offer good link-up play with the other attackers. He’s composed on the ball, and that’s what you need in this side.
Central Midfielder: Rodrigo de Paul, 27, Argentina
He had a stellar showing throughout Copa America, capped off by a fantastic game against Brazil for the title, and de Paul was rewarded with a contract at Atletico Madrid. Maybe there’s some slight recency bias in this pick, but if his form for Argentina was any indication, de Paul warrants a spot in this XI. As the central midfielder for this squad, he can help win back and control possession, and with the array of attacking talent, he doesn’t need to push so high up the pitch. He’s an excellent fit here.
Right Wing-Back: Juan Cuadrado, 33, Colombia
He is an aging player, but Cuadrado is still quality. Putting Danilo in the RCB role allows Cuadrado to get forward more, and as a traditional right-back, he can still recover on the defensive end. The Juventus full-back offers versatility in this squad. He is no stranger to creating chances for his team, especially with Colombia, and this role would suit him nicely.
Left Forward: Neymar, 29, Brazil
Neymar, the Co-Player of the Tournament, will operate on the left side of the pitch. His technical ability speaks for itself, so too does his run of form with Brazil. He scored two goals and assisted another three as he helped lead Brazil to the Copa America final. This will be a nice reminder of the old Barcelona days with Neymar and Messi linking in the attack. It’s a nightmare for opponents, and I would give a lot of money to see it just one more time.
Center Forward: Richarlison, 24, Brazil
Do I go with a traditional No. 9? Do I go with a more technical player that will pair well with Neymar and Messi? I think I found a happy medium in Richarlison. He’ll have an abundance of chances. He can link up with the other attackers in the build-up and can certainly put away chances. He won’t be the number one option, but does it matter when you have Messi and Neymar?
Right Forward: Lionel Messi, 34, Argentina
He’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen. He could be the G.O.A.T. He won Player of the Tournament after leading Argentina to their first major trophy in 28 years. He scored four goals and assisted on five in seven Copa America games. There was no way he wasn’t being included.
And that concludes the full eleven members for this squad. Upfront, there is no doubt that this barrage of attackers can score and create opportunities on any pitch. The backline is stalwart, and I’d be interested to see how a 3-1-3-3 would work with this South America XI.
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