By Michael Heald

Mike is a Sport Development & PE graduate, currently working as a Sports Coordinator at UCFB Etihad Campus. He has several coaching qualifications and a nutrition diploma. His passion is sport, predominantly football, and has played, coached and refereed the game previously.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia presents another opportunity for fans from across the globe to pick their dream XI, within a certain budget and regulations, to see who can conquer the world of fantasy football management.

The majority of the games have a set budget, which differ from game to game, to follow and the standard regulation of only being allowed to pick three players from any one country. The ever increasing popularity of these fantasy leagues has meant there has been an increase in the amount of organisations offering their own versions with various entry fees and prizes. The official one for this summer’s tournament is McDonald’s FIFA World Cup Fantasy, which is free to enter and a top prize of:

One brand new Kia Sportage;
One signed captain’s armband from the winning team of the 2018 FIFA World Cup;
and one copy of EA SPORTS FIFA 18 for PS4.
There are additional prizes for those who finish 2nd-7th, and for each of the best performers in each of the seven rounds.

Managers have to pick a formation and a squad of 15 – two goalkeepers, five defenders, five midfielders and three attackers. Once the squad is selected, a captain is chosen from the starting XI and then earns double points in each game they play. Points are earned for goals scored, assists, saving a penalty, every three saves made by a goalkeeper, clean sheets, earning a penalty and playing a match. However, points can be lost by conceding goals, yellow and red cards, missed penalties and own goals. There are various boosters that managers can choose to play but these are limited so have to be used tactically. Substitutions are allowed after each round of games on a given day and transfers can be made but these are restricted each round.

Now to the interesting bit, picking the squad! With a budget of €100 million at your disposal you have to pick the best performing players. Possible formations are:

5-3-2 5-2-3 5-4-1 4-4-2

4-3-3 4-5-1 3-5-2 3-4-3

As is the trend in real life, strikers are more expensive, then midfielders, defenders and finally the goalkeepers. I am operating a 5-3-2 system and piling the majority of my budget into the starting XI hoping they can do the business, rather than having a strong overall squad. It is riskier, especially if I get any injuries, poor performers or any player doesn’t get played, but I am hoping that my main two strikers and five defenders can earn plenty of points with the others offering a supporting role. Having the five defenders has allowed me to splash on the strikers but means I have had to opt for a less well known goalkeeper and midfielder. The majority of my starting XI should reach the quarter finals (though I may now have jinxed it) so fewer transfers will be needed, in theory. I expect both Germany and France to be tight at the back, hence four players in my back five coming from those two countries. While Marcelo shouldn’t concede many for Brazil but also offers a goal threat.

Akinfeev at Russia is a good keeper and they have a decent looking group so shouldn’t ship too many goals, but he may be kept busy so bonus points for 3+ saves are my thinking for his selection.

In midfield, James Rodriguez is the star man for Colombia and they would expect to have a good time in their group so hopefully he’ll earn a few points in the groups at least. Thiago will hopefully play, but with a new manager coming in you never know who they will favour, however the Spanish love to keep the ball so hopefully an assist and the odd goal will come his way. Trezeguet is a wild card pick to allow for the main men of the tournament up front, but he has had a very good year and hopefully will be one of the emerging players of the World Cup, especially if he can link up with Salah.

Upfront I have gone for two of the biggest names in football. Both Argentina and Brazil will be looking to score plenty of goals and both Messi and Neymar will be the men leading their country. My team is tailored around these two, so if they don’t hit form neither will my team and while one will have to go later in the tournament to accommodate transfers, I am hoping they will pick up plenty of points in the group stage to get me off to a flyer.