Between now and Boxing Day, fans of the Premier League and Fantasy Premier League will have to bide their time and wait for domestic action’s return – but in their place, the sport’s biggest stage has its own equivalent offering.
The World Cup 2022 starts in Qatar on Sunday and the official World Cup Fantasy (WCF) game offers supporters the chance to combine some of the global stars from other leagues alongside favourites from this season’s FPL team, should they so wish.
There are some differences in rules, points scoring and boosts to be aware of, but the fundamentals apply: pick players you back to perform well inividually, and whose team you feel could go far.
Below we’ve identified 30 players who should be given serious consideration, depending on how you plan to set up your team and your own predictions for the group stage and beyond.
For the avoidance of doubt, the likes of Harry Kane, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and other such stars are obviously the potential best overall performers, but are not included here as they are clear choices who fans will probably have to decide which one or two to include; we’re looking instead at value picks, surprise successes and those who might go further than expected.
Fernando Muslera, Uruguay (5.0m). The clear first choice for his nation could rack up the clean sheet bonuses and is somewhat cheaper than most of the established names for European and South American nations. They face South Korea, Portugal and Ghana in the groups – two shutouts from the three would make Muslera a bargain.
Unai Simon, Spain (5.5m). Simply put, outside the most expensive goalkeepers, Simon offers the best balance of guaranteed starter and potential to go deep into the tournament, possibly saving a precious transfer later on.
Matt Turner, USA (4.5m). A surprise squad announcement saw Zack Steffen omitted from the USA final 26 despite starting six of the last nine qualifiers. That leaves Turner as the most-capped and highest-profile ‘keeper in the side; he’s cheap as chips to save money for elsewhere but do you trust the States to navigate the group stage?
Joao Cancelo, Portugal (6.0m). Doesn’t have quite as much free reign to cause havoc as he does at club level, but with key passes offering a sneaky route to points too, creative and potential goalscoring full-backs could be a goldmine. None are better than Cancelo this year and he’s key to Portugal’s hopes.
Kieran Trippier, England (5.0m). Along the same lines, Reece James’ injury and the fact Trent Alexander-Arnold isn’t first-choice for Gareth Southgate leaves Trippier as a solid pick. Add in set-pieces, crosses from wing-back and the fact he’s oddly cheaper than both the other two right-backs means he’s a bargain.
Borna Sosa, Croatia (3.5m). Not quite as much a guarantee to start, but Sosa should edge out namesake Barisic if Zlatko Dalic opts for a back four. Sosa is a good ball-carrier, solid defensively and delivers well from wide areas – and scored on his last start in the Nations League. The risk is that in a three, he may not start at wing-back.
Lucas Hernandez, France (5.5m). Didier Deschamps has ridiculous numbers of top-class defenders at his disposal and has switched from a back four to three regularly – which makes picking a starter tricky. The best bet might be one who has started when fit and can fit in both systems: Bayern’s Lucas Hernandez can play left-back or centrally in a four, and left of the three if they go to wing-backs.
Joakim Maehle, Denmark (4.5m). Shot to prominence at Euro 2020 when he starred from wing-back and remains a key part of the side, whether from wing-back or full-back. A regular provider of goals for his side in the Nations League this year and weirdly low-priced considering Denmark will be heavily favoured to progress from the group.
Nicolas Tagliafico, Argentina (5.5m). For a solid regular who could go far and not need a transfer, we like Lyon left-back Tagliafico. While he has a more defensive-minded role than some at the finals on the sides of defence, he’s aggressive and quick to the challenge – where assist points are lacking, tackle points might be made up here.
Jurrien Timber, Netherlands (5.5m). Virgil van Dijk will be the leader at the back but alongside him his fellow centre-backs will get the same clean sheet points he does and can be claimed a little cheaper. Ajax youngster Timber has featured regularly through the Nations League and has a couple of assists this season at club level, too.
Kalidou Koulibaly, Senegal (5.5m). There are ten defenders who cost the maximum 6.0m, mostly the expected names. For an elite talent who might be tasked with producing even more than usual, look no further than Chelsea centre-back Koulibaly. With Senegal’s other star, Sadio Mane, suffering an injury before the finals, it could be the defender is inspired to even greater heights – and perhaps even a goal along the way.
Tariq Lamptey, Ghana (4.0m). One more cheaper option to balance the books – but this one is a gamble. A switch of national allegiance in the run-up to the finals sealed Lamptey’s spot on the plane but he hasn’t played much at club level this season and only has the one cap for his new nation. Ghana can definitely progress through the group but Lamptey may yet face an impact sub role. The pay-off is that he’s extremely attack-minded and can play on the wing or wide up front, too.
Filip Kostic, Serbia (6.0m). For context, the most expensive midfielders are Kevin de Bruyne at 11m, then a host at 8.5m and 9m. Filip Kostic offers an easy and cheapish route to constant delivery to the forwards; the left-sided outlet will deliver cross after cross to powerful attackers, racking up at least key passes and quite probably assists.
Aurelien Tchouameni, France (6.5m). The addition of points for tackles means ball-winners gain more relevance in WCF than they sometimes do in FPL. France’s ball-winner and ball-carrier in the middle is the in-for Real Madrid man; who partners him is up for debate but his spot is all but assured.
Leroy Sane, Germany (9.0m). In absolutely outrageous form playing behind the striker for Bayern this season until a thigh injury derailed him. Assuming full sharpness returns, he could be Germany’s most important and impressive attacking component – which could yet be as a No9, 10 or wide forward.
Phil Foden, England (8.5m). As with many teams, the exact starting XI for England has one or two pieces of guesswork still but Foden offers the combination of creativity and goalscoring potential which make him well worth the uncertainty. The only question is whether he starts immediately or comes into the team partway through the group.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Serbia (7.0m). A second Serb in the midfield group, Milinkovic-Savic has the responsibility of being the runner from deep to join the attack and get shots away from the second line. They are a forceful side and while he isn’t free-scoring himself, don’t be surprised to see him clock up a couple of group stage goals or assists all the same.
Mateo Kovacic, Croatia (6.5m). Combining the ball-winning of a defender and the final-third outlook of a playmaker, there won’t be many as well-rounded players at the World Cup as Croatia’s star. His lower pricetag is an indication that the goals and assists tally is too regularly set to zero – their attack isn’t elite and strikes are shared around – but pick the right game for him to shine in and Kovacic could be an inspired pick.
Jude Bellingham, England (7.5m). A little more pricey for a lot more scoring potential. The midfielder doesn’t have huge experience but given the form of Jordan Henderson and fitness of Kalvin Phillips, he’s surely in the XI for the Three Lions at the start of proceedings.
Daichi Kamada, Japan (5.5m). A brilliant No10 who can play off the side too, Kamada has fine movement, goalscoring ability and can pick a pass for runners beyond him, all marking him out as a potential bargain if Japan are to overthrow one of their European rivals. Back-to-back starts against Germany and Costa Rica, perhaps?
Yunus Musah, USA (6.0m). Time for a couple of risky picks which could pay off handsomely, starting with USA’s first game against Wales. They badly need a couple of connection players to find form between midfield and attack and Musah has the technical capacity to do so. The brains on the ball to go with athleticism elsewhere.
Fred, Brazil (6.0m). Frowned upon whenever he takes to the pitch at Old Trafford, it seems, but Tite doesn’t care – Fred is a Selecao regular alongside Casemiro. Has the defensive responsibilities which could see him clock up bonus tackle points, but also does surge forward at times to join up the more stellar-named attack.
Vinicius Jr, Brazil (10.5m). Neymar is the biggest name in that aforementioned Brazil attack, but the most in-form of them all this season has been Real Madrid’s Vini. Tricky, rapid and with ever-improving composure, he’s a lock to start at this point and could be key to unlocking tight games.
Darwin Nunez, Uruguay (8.0m). The South Americans are in a relatively open group, meaning they’ll need at least one of their forwards to really fire if they are to progress – and the Liverpool man comes into the tournament in good form. Mobile, powerful and confident, he could certainly plunder two or three in the opening games.
Lautaro Martinez, Argentina (8.0m). Similar to Vinicius, Lautaro is overshadowed by a bigger name in the team but plays an important role and is a streaky type of goalscorer. If he starts confidently, expect it to continue; if he’s anonymous and subbed on 60, you’ll want to sell. Given it’s Saudi Arabia up first, gamble early if at all.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, Serbia (7.0m). There’s an element of risk here in that Serbia can play one striker instead of two, but Mitrovic is cheaper than Dusan Vlahovic and was by far in better form through the Nations League. They’ll be hard to stop together.
Henry Martin, Mexico (5.5m). With long-term No9 Raul Jimenez still facing fitness concerns, Henry Martin has been leading the line for the Concacaf nation. By common consent it’s a shootout between themselves and Poland to reach the knockouts, so while he doesn’t need out literally outscore Robert Lewandowski, a goal or two along the way would certainly help his team’s case, and yours. If you pick him, obviously.
Abde Ezzalzouli, Morocco (5.5m). An impact sub is his most likely initial role, so this is one to consider only if you’re after a cheap third and have your starting forwards sorted. He’ll be listed as “Ez Abde” – this is the outrageously skilful Barcelona youngster on loan at Osasuna. Dribbling talent for days and can cause carnage late in games.
Andre Silva, Portugal (7.5m). Is Cristiano Ronaldo finished, past it? Are his Manchester United problems and lack of game time going spill over onto the international scene? If any of those prove true, Andre Silva is in line to benefit. They could line up together but Silva’s aerial threat and movement make him at least first alternative and a potentially sneaky cheap extra starter for a nation fancied by some.
Sardar Azmoun, Iran (4.5m). If you’re shopping in the bargain basement for your final forward and just need someone who should start and could score, Iran’s leading light is your man – as long as he proves his fitness. He’s in the squad, so it’s looking positive. It’ll be an upset if they get through but as a side who are really well organised and good on the break, they could yet pull off a result which stops one of the others progressing.