Seven of this eleven of World Cup oldies are the captains of their countries, and in their prime would have wiped the floor with anyone. They would probably do rather well in these their twilight years.
Werther’s Originals at the ready folks, here’s the geriatric XI of Qatar…
GK: Guillermo Ochoa (37, Mexico)
Should Ochoa need an experienced shoulder, he can always lean on fellow goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, three years his senior. But Ochoa shouldn’t require such assistance given this is his fifth World Cup and he’s performed rather well in the last two in particular, winning Man of the Match awards against Brazil and the Netherlands in 2014, before making 25 saves in just four games in Russia four years later.
RB: Dani Alves (39, Brazil)
His 125 caps for Brazil put him third behind fellow full-backs Roberto Carlos (127) and Cafu (143) on the all-time list. Some have suggested the former Barcelona star may be little more than a cheerleader this winter, but he’s started five of Brazil’s last eight games, and there’s not the greatest of competition in the full-back areas.
CB: Pepe (39, Portugal)
A knee injury threatened to rule out everyone’s favourite sh*thouse, but Pepe’s proved his fitness and we will have the pleasure of seeing him pinching strikers, feigning injury and shouting at referees in an eighth major tournament.
CB: Thiago Silva (38, Brazil)
Brazil haven’t been all that likeable for a while now. They’re nowhere near as fun as the squads of the noughties, are mostly functional, and those that would be described as the flair players aren’t rooted for by the masses in the same way as Ronaldinho or Ronaldo.
It would, however, be rather nice to see Thiago Silva lifting the World Cup. And manager Tite will be hoping suspension doesn’t rule the centre-back out of a key game this time, as with no-one to hold David Luiz’s leash against Germany in 2014, Brazil infamously lost 7-1.
LB: Yuto Nagatomo (36, Japan)
18 caps shy of Yasuhito Endo’s record of 152, Nagatomo becomes the first Japanese player to feature in four World Cups on the bounce. He’s played every minute of Japan’s last three outings on the world stage and the withdrawal of Yuta Nakayama from the squad through injury gives him every chance of maintaining that record in Qatar.
CM: Sergio Busquets (34, Spain)
Nicknamed The Octopus during his time playing behind Andres Iniesta and Xavi, Busquets’ tentacles will now be reaching out to cover for teenagers Pedri and Gavi, Spain’s new midfield maestros. He will likely share the babysitting load with Rodri.
CM Luka Modric (37, Croatia)
England’s nemesis in the 2018 semi-final, Modric is Croatia’s most-capped international with 155 appearances to his name, and despite some suggesting the last World Cup and then the last Euros might be his last hurrah, he continues to dazzle for Real Madrid and will undoubtedly produce some magiv moments once again for his country.
CM: Atiba Hutchinson (39, Canada)
39 years old and captain of Besiktas and Canada, Hutchinson will get the chance to feature in his first, and presumably last, World Cup. He so nearly missed out though, having made just one appearance for his club this season due to injury. His first taste of international football came two decades ago, as he watched from the bench at Easter Road as his Canadian teammates lost 3-1 to Scot Gemmill and Scotland.
FW: Lionel Messi (35, Argentina)
He drove Argentina to win his first major tournament in 2021 with four goals and five assists in the Copa America. A World Cup win would be the cherry on top of the biggest, most elaborately adorned ice cream sundae in football history. Hard not to root for him.
FW: Cristiano Ronaldo (37, Portugal)
Hard to root for him. Yes, he’s the greatest goalscorer in international football history with 117 goals, but the videos doing the rounds of him on social media suggest his Portuguese teammates may not be all that happy to see him after his appearance on Two Pr*cks In a Room with Piers Morgan. Please, please put him on the bench.
FW: Robert Lewandowski (34, Poland)
With Olivier Giroud (36), Karim Benzema (34), Thomas Muller (33), Luis Suarez (35), Edinson Cavani (35) and Gareth Bale (33) all making their respective World Cup squads, Qatar could be where many a legendary striker is put out to pasture. You wouldn’t bet against Lewandowski leading the line for Poland in four years, though he may not fancy another major tournament as in four attempts so far, he’s made the knockout stages just once.
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