Afternoon all, and welcome to the final squad that George Orwell has to offer us – for now, anyway. Having looked at all the established nations from his classic novel, we’re left with the areas which the other three nations are all fighting over – the Disputed Territories. Now, admittedly, if these nations actually existed, the area probably wouldn’t have a representative football team, because none of the other three nations recognise it as such, and, as I just mentioned, the background plot of the book revolves around Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania all fighting for control over the region. However, it makes sense to have a four-team tournament rather than having only the three teams, and it would be unfair to leave some of the world’s most talented players out of the series.
There’s a pretty large area the disputed territories cover, which can be summed up as north and central Africa, the Middle East, and South-East Asia. As with the other articles in this series, if you know anything about football, you’ll know that this means we’ll be looking at mostly northern Africa for the bulk of this teams’ talent, with a couple of players thrown in from the Middle East. Since most nations in South-East Asia have as much footballing talent and pedigree as a wet paper bag, we won’t really be looking over there too much.
As a quick disclaimer, and one which applies to the Oceania team too, I should point out that since the Democratic Republic of Congo is split halfway between the Disputed Territories and Oceania, I’ve decided not to include the nation for this series, since it would be unfair to put an equally divided nation exclusively into one of the two territories, so the likes of Cédric Bakambu, Chancel Mbemba, Dieumerci Mbokani, Yannick Bolasie, Arthur Masuaku and Britt Assombalonga won’t be featuring here. Not that they probably would have anyway, but you get my point.
Anyway, at the risk of being involved in a war against the Party in my recognition of the area as its own nation, let’s take a look at who makes the cut in our 23-man team.
Goalkeepers: André Onana, Raïs M’Bolhi & Carlos Kameni
Playing our way out from the back, we start off with our number one goalkeeper, where it would be silly to put anyone other than André Onana between the sticks. A regular at Ajax since 2016, Onana has started to gain a high profile with his stellar performances in Europe over the past few years, particularly as his side reached the 2017 Europa League final and produced a stunning run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019. The only goalkeeper from outside of Europe to be nominated for the inaugural Yashin Award in 2019, the Cameroon international has also established himself as his country’s number one, and one of their star men.
As back-up to Onana, we officially have the best goalkeeper of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Algeria’s Raïs M’Bolhi. A much-travelled man now playing out in the wilderness of Saudi Arabia, M’Bolhi has been a mostly regular fixture for the current African champions since the start of the 2010s. And joining him on the bench is someone who was constantly linked with a Premier League move but never got it, Carlos Kameni. Without a club since the summer of 2019 but not officially retired, the 36-year-old has made a successful career out in Spain with Espanyol and Málaga, and earned 71 caps for Cameroon.
Right-Backs: Achraf Hakimi & Noussair Mazraoui
We’ve got a couple of Moroccans filling in our right-back slots, in what I feel will be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Starting for us is Achraf Hakimi, who has been starring for Borussia Dortmund in his two-year loan stint from Real Madrid. Quick, versatile and skilful, Hakimi’s gone and got himself seven goals and ten assists so far this season, and already has 28 caps for his country at the tender age of 21. Expect his boy to have a bright future at the Bernabéu. On standby is another Ajax starlet, in the guise of Noussair Mazraoui. A very similar player to Hakimi in many ways, Mazraoui is also lightning fast, can play in midfield, and has a wicked delivery on him. He may have fallen down the pecking order at the Amsterdam Arena after the arrival of Sergiño Dest, but he remains a quality player deserving of his place in the side.
Aïssa Mandi can consider himself unlucky to miss out, as can our duo’s fellow Moroccan Nabil Dirar.And if anyone feels aggrieved at the absence of Serge Aurier, then maybe he should start playing well before I consider picking him.
Centre-Backs: Kalidou Koulibaly, Joël Matip, Romain Saïss & Mehdi Benatia
Lining up for us in defence is undoubtedly Africa’s best centre-back, one of the finest defenders in world football. And also Joël Matip.
In fairness to Matip, he wouldn’t be featuring in the starting XI if he was complete sh*t, and he’s proven to be a very capable squad player for Liverpool during his four seasons at the club, (usually) doing a grand job when called upon, and was included in the line-up that won the 2019 Champions League. He’s more than worthy of a starting berth here, it’s just that Kalidou Koulibaly puts every other available centre-back option to shame. A hulking defender with pace and strength who’s dominant in the air and in the tackle, Koulibaly has been a staple of the Napoli defence for the past six years, featuring in the past four Serie A Teams of the Season.
On the bench, we have conclusive evidence emerging that Morocco have a pretty solid pool of talent, with Romain Saïss & Mehdi Benatia. Saïss can play virtually anywhere across the defence and midfield, as has been the case for him at Wolves, but we’re going to deploy him as a centre-back for this squad. He’s joined by his former international teammate and captain Benatia, who has spent the bulk of his career playing for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Marseille, Roma, Juventus and Bayern Munich. Now aged 32 and having retired from the international scene, Benatia finds himself playing for Qatari side Al-Duhail.
Quick shout-outs to Eric Bailly, Nicolas Nkoulou and Kenneth Omeruo, who I’m sure many people who know better than I do would have selected for this team.
Left-Backs: Ramy Bensebaini & Faouzi Ghoulam
If Morocco’s got us covered at right-back, Algeria have us covered at left-back. Now, I’m sure there’s a case to be made for me to put in Hakimi at left-back, since he can play there, bring in either Mandi or Aurier, and push one of these two to the side. I won’t be doing that, however, since Hakimi is naturally a right-back, and I have a great liking of both players I’ve gone for here.
Bensebaini spent three successful years at Rennes before his career really took off in 2019, earning a move to Borussia Mönchengladbach and establishing himself as Algeria’s first-choice left-back as they won the Africa Cup of Nations. His two goals against Bayern Munich that December have helped him begin to establish his place in Borussia’s starting XI, with his dynamic forward runs and versatility. His fellow countryman Ghoulam may no longer be Napoli’s first-choice left-back anymore, with Mário Rui being preferred over him, but he’s still made over 170 appearances in Naples and remains a capable squad option.
Central Midfielders: Wilfred Ndidi, Thomas Partey, Idrissa Gueye & Ismaël Bennacer
The rains down in Africa have been blessed with some pretty decent midfield talent, and if Franck Kessié and Naby Keita were on form, Yaya Touré was still the player he was a few years ago, or if Mohamed Elneny could actually play football, they, among others, could have found their way into the team.
Instead, we line up with one of the best defensive midfield duos money can buy. Nigeria’s Wilfred Ndidi has been a joy to watch since his arrival at Leicester City, breaking up opposition attacks and dictating the midfield with ease, his tough tackling combined with his elegance on the ball making him one of the best midfielders in the Premier League over the past couple of seasons. His midfield partner, Thomas Partey of Ghana, is in many respects a similar player to Ndidi, tall, imposing and with the ability to create chances from deep, but also has a bit of a goalscoring touch, with a surprising 10 goals from 27 appearances for his country. Having made a good name for himself over the past few years at Atlético Madrid, he easily slots into the midfield.
We’ve got two more talented defensive midfielders among the substitutes. Senegal’s Idrissa Gueye is one of them, who Everton fans will remember fondly for his ability to win the ball back in midfield, and still miss his presence and energy after his big-money move to PSG. Bennacer, on the other hand, is another youngster who many Arsenal fans will be wondering why they let go so soon for so little. Currently at AC Milan, the Algerian may have an unhealthy habit of finding his way into the referee’s notebook, but his power and drive from midfield have been a bright light in another disappointing season for his club. A pretty strong midfield if you ask me.
Attacking Midfielders: Hakim Ziyech & Amine Harit
The centre of midfield in the Disputed Territories is full of talent, and it’s no exception in the attacking midfield slot. More specifically, it’s Morocco that’s full of talent in that area. If I didn’t have Ziyech and Harit to choose, I could have picked any one of the likes of Mbark Boussoufa, Younés Belhanda, Mehdi Carcela-González, Zakaria Labyad, or forgotten former QPR trickster Adel Taarabt.
Instead, it’s Hakim Ziyech and Amine Harit that find their way into the team. As far as Ziyech goes, it’s safe to say he is an absolute baller. In four years at Ajax, he’s managed to score 48 goals and assist another 82. Even for a league such as the Eredivisie, those are some phenomenal stats, and if he’s able to bring those numbers, as well as his individual trickery, flair and rocket of a left foot with him to Chelsea, he’s going to be a sensation in the Premier League. His understudy in this team, Harit, on the other hand, is just starting to get his career off the ground with some impressive displays for Schalke, with seven goals and seven assists so far this season. At age 22 he still has some way to go, but he deserves his place here.
Right Wingers: Mohamed Salah & Riyad Mahrez
The Disputed Territories certainly have some talent going for them in the midfield, but their wingers are next level. Case in point: on the right, Riyad Mahrez only makes the bench, and Nicolas Pépé doesn’t even make it into the squad.
That’s because of the one and only Mohamed Salah taking his place on the right. There isn’t much to say about Salah that hasn’t been said already, what with him being one of the best players in the world right now. Scoring nearly 100 goals for Liverpool in under three seasons from the wing is impressive enough, add that to his 32 assists (who says he doesn’t pass it?) and all-round pace and dribbling ability, and you see why he’s a two-time Premier League Golden Boot winner, a two-time African Footballer of the Year, and finished in the top six of Ballon d’Or voting for two years running, all the while being heralded as a national hero in Egypt.
His mere existence means that the uber-talented Riyad Mahrez has to settle for a place on the bench. A hero of the Leicester City side that won the 2016 Premier League title, Mahrez managed 17 goals and 10 assists that season, seeing himself crowned the PFA Player of the Year. A move to Manchester City eventually followed, and while he hasn’t repeated his form from a few years ago, he still has 9 goals and 14 assists to his name so far this season, and has already won five trophies during his stay up north. If life were fairer, he’d be a sure-fire starter.
Left Wingers: Sadio Mané & Wilfried Zaha
One of Liverpool’s star men on the right, and another one on the left. And another one of the world’s finest players as well.
Mané has had a pretty sensational rise since his arrival in the Premier League, first at Southampton, and now with Liverpool. He currently has 77 goals from the left for the Reds, and has 80 league goals to his name, including 22 in the 2018/19 season, helping him to share the Golden Boot with his aforementioned teammate Salah. Fourth in Ballon d’Or voting and a Champions League winner in 2019, Mané’s searing pace and lethal finishing mean he’ll hopefully be a star of the English game for years to come.
Zaha, meanwhile, hasn’t exactly shown the form this season to suggest he’s worthy of the move to a Champions League team he says he is, but he’s undoubtedly the best player Crystal Palace have had in their ranks for years now. With 35 goals and 38 assists for the Eagles, Zaha usually provides the entertainment for the Selhurst Park faithful, and the Côte d’Ivoire international (who very kindly switched his allegiance from England so he could be included in this team), takes his place on the bench ahead of the likes of Arsenal’s former mishap-laden forwards Gervinho and Alex Iwobi.
As a quick side note, if anyone wants to know just how much talent Morocco have at their disposal, then Nordin Amrabat, Sofiane Boufal, and FIFA 13’s best player Oussama Assaidi were all available for this team. How are they not world champions by now?
Strikers: Victor Osimhen & Sardar Azmoun
Since Oceania have pilfered Africa’s best attacker in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, denying us the opportunity to see the three winners of the 2018/19 Golden Boot play up front together, we’re forced to expand our horizons a bit, which means we venture outside of Africa for the first time in the entire article!
Our starting striker is Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen, who has quite frankly been, as the kids would say, ‘on fire’ for much of the past two seasons, with 38 goals from 74 appearances for both Charleroi and current club Lille. His electric pace and bamboozling of many a defender has seen him linked with a move to a bigger club, and he even has 4 goals already for his country at the mere age of 21. And his back-up is the product of our first and only venture outside of Africa, with Zenit St. Petersburg’s Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun putting on his jacket to get cosy from the bench. His two seasons in Russia have yielded an impressive tally of 26 goals from 45 matches, and currently sits as his country’s fifth-highest goalscorer with 32. More of a typical centre forward who can drop back into the ‘false 9’ role to create chances from deep, Azmoun is a classy player who rounds off this squad.
And yes, I know Manchester United fans will be crying out that Odion Ighalo is the best thing since sliced bread, but I’ve already reluctantly appeased that lot by putting Bruno Fernandes in my Eurasia squad, and I refuse to do it again.
Manager: Djamel Belmadi
This is another classic case of me knowing next to nothing about managers from a certain region, and, as has often been the case in my life, my knowledge of African managers has let me down. Since Algeria are the current African champions, and seeing as we have five Algerian players in this squad, it makes sense to go with their current manager, Djamel Belmadi. He seems a decent gaffer to manage the Disputed Territories to international recognition, though I’m sure that in my sleep-deprived state there’s a glaringly obvious African coach who I should be appointing instead of him, so he can consider himself lucky I don’t have the strength to go and check.
And so the curtain falls on yet another dramatic trip through the mind of George Orwell, and I must say I had a blast making this squad. Even if the Party doesn’t approve of my recognition of the Disputed Territories as an independent sovereign nation, I can imagine the encounters against Eurasia and Oceania will be particularly juicy. Not Eastasia, they’ve not got a hope against anyone.
Anyway, that’s all for now, and I must thank you all for reading and for doing your bit to stay safe during these testing times. Be sure to check out the other squads in this series, and anything else on here that tickles your fancy, in a vague attempt to keep yourself sane whilst having to stay indoors. Knowing me, however, I’ll probably end up making it worse.
Goodbye, everyone, and long live Big Brother.