Here are our views on the best defender from each of the 7 continents.
7. Asia - Gotoku Sakai
As always, we start with Asia, and this was quite possibly the trickiest selection of them all. Despite Iran being almost certainly the best Asian national team defensively, the best individuals hail from South Korea and Japan. South Korea can offer the likes of Park Joo-ho and Kim Jin-su, whilst Japan have the likes of Yuto Nagatomo, Maya Yoshida and Hiroki Sakai. In the end, it is a Japanese international we give it to - Gotoku Sakai. Born in New York to a German mother and a Japanese father, Gotoku won 42 caps for the Japanese national team, retiring after the 2018 World Cup at the age of 27. A versatile and hard working full-back with a great engine, Gotoku has been with Hamburg since 2015.
6. Africa - Kalidou Koulibaly
Kalidou Koulibaly of Senegal gestures during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group H match between Poland and Senegal at Spartak Stadium on June 19, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.
We’ve talked about Kalidou Koulibaly a few times on HITC Sevens, so subscribers to this channel will already know we’re big fans of the Senegalese international. The likes of Mehdi Benatia, Serge Aurier, Faouzi Ghoulam - and particularly Eric Bailly - all warrant mentions, but given that this seven is based on current ability, we have to go with Koulibaly.
Born in France but capped 28 times by Senegal since 2015, Koulibaly is a towering centre-back who does the simple things brilliantly. Hellishly strong, brilliant in the air and positionally intelligent, Koulibaly has been with Napoli since 2014, where he has twice made the Serie A Team of the Year.
5. Europe - Sergio Ramos
I have a sneaking suspicion that not everyone is going to agree with this choice, and Sergio Ramos is an unsurprisingly divisive character. Europe has some tremendous defenders right now, from Juventus duo Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, to Belgium pair Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Then there’s Ramos’ Real teammate Raphael Varane, who is a fantastic footballer, and Mats Hummels.
We’d still go with Ramos though, who is both mentally and physically so strong, an excellent header of a ball and brilliant in the tackle. He has made the FIFPro World XI eight times.
4. North America - John Brooks
John Anthony Brooks of Berlin looks on after winning the Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and Bayer Leverkusen at Olympiastadion on December 5, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.
The toughest choice along with Asia was undoubtedly North America. Most of the standout candidates, such as Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun and Nestor Araujo, all hail from Mexico, but ultimately our pick is a United States international in the form of John Brooks. Slightly unusually, whilst our pick for Asia was born in North America, our pick for North America was born in Europe.
Brooks was born in Berlin, to a German mother and an American father. He never lived in the US, but Brooks chose to represent the nation of his father in 2013, and he has won 33 caps since then. A widely underrated centre-back, Brooks stands at 6’4”, he is tremendously strong, very quick once he gets up to speed and defensively astute. After five years at Hertha Berlin, he joined Wolfsburg in 2017, and we expect the 25-year-old to keep improving.
3. South America - Diego Godin
Two of the finest South American defenders are Brazilian left-backs, Alex Sandro and Marcelo, along with centre-back Thiago Silva, and although he’s 35 now, Dani Alves probably still warrants a mention. We’ve gone for a centre-back and a Uruguayan as our number one though, and that man is Diego Godin.
A defenders’ defender, so to speak, Godin is so brave, so alert and so smart with his positioning. Technically speaking, in terms of his ability to bring the ball out from the back and play an intricate pass, Godin leaves a lot to be desired, but purely defensively, he’s probably the best player on the planet.
2. Australia / Oceania - Winston Reid
Winston Reid of West Ham United during training at Rush Green on February 9, 2018 in Romford, England.
No nation has dominated their continent in this series more than Australia in this one, so it is refreshing to hand this one to a New Zealand native in the form of Winston Reid. In fact, Reid takes this one pretty comfortably. On the verge of going into his ninth season with West Ham, Reid was the 2012-13 Hammer of the Year, but never has he faced such stiff competition for a starting berth in the West Ham side as this season.
1. Antarctica - Roger Firn
At HITC Sevens, we’ve always been big fans of ball-playing centre-halves, and Roger Firn is a penguin who falls firmly, or firnly we should say, into that category. Standing at just 68cm tall, which is markedly short even among chinstrap penguins, Firn makes up for his small stature with his precision and positioning. Few players disposses their opponents as cleanly as Firn, and he had the most interceptions for the third season running in the Antarctic Peninsula Premier League last season.
Okay, for those of you who are less familiar with freezing weather terms, and are wondering why we didn’t go for a funny surname like ‘Blizzard’ or ‘Snowstorm’ this time, well we have actually. Firn is a type of snow which has been left over from previous seasons and has subsequently become more compact. Basically the stage between snow and glacial ice, firn tends to be very dense and hard to break through.
Now, don’t ever say we’re not deeply informative when it comes to freezing weather conditions. Clueless about football? Sure, but sub-zero climates? Definitely not.
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