Adidas vs. Nike Super Match: Selecting the Nike World Football Best XI

Dan LevyNational Lead WriterMay 16, 2012

Adidas vs. Nike Super Match: Selecting the Nike World Football Best XI

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    Adidas or Nike? We continue our search to determine which brand boasts the better world football talent.

    Part 1 of our series looked at Lionel Messi, Iker Casillas, Xavi, Arjen Robben and the amazing cast of talent for Adidas. Part 2, below, highlights the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Mesut Ozil and the best Nike has to offer.

    We may even see our first American.

    Over the last month, a dedicated panel of soccer writers and editors at Bleacher Report pared down the list of over 1,000 names associated with Adidas and Nike to just under 50 world-class players.

    We selected the Best XI for both Adidas and Nike and then painstakingly filled out a seven-man bench and chose an additional five reserve players to serve as ambassadors. 

    Today, we announce our Nike squad. Click here for the Adidas roster

    After both rosters are announced, a worldwide panel of soccer experts has been asked to choose the better player at each position—think Messi vs. Neymar 11 times over—to help determine which brand has the more talented players.

    Then, with the help of EA Sports and FIFA 12, we will simulate the match with our selected rosters to determine, once and for all, which team would win a super match between Adidas and Nike.

    To see just how detailed our selections are, please click the subsequent pages to read our debate at each position. Obviously, your opinion on our selections is welcome in the comments.

    For a full list of the Adidas and Nike players, compiled via Wikipedia and independently verified when applicable, click here.

    Without further ado, here is the Nike Best XI and subs.

Nike Goalkeepers

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    (Note: The following debates were conducted between Dan Levy, National Lead Writer; Will Tidey, World Football Lead Writer; Mike Cummings, World Football Lead Blogger; Tony Mabert, B/R writer and Football Editor at Eurosport-Yahoo!; and Chris Hall, B/R World Football writer. Their selections and opinions are not necessarily the opinions of the author, our editors or the company.)

    DAN: I don't really know why there's a lack of keeper depth for Nike and Adidas, as they both make quality gloves. Maybe there are other companies who snatch up the keepers. Maybe there's more value in field player sponsors.

    Alas, per our list, there are just 16 Nike keepers.

    The only real options I can see for a team of this caliber are Hugo Lloris (France/Lyon) and Tim Howard (USA/Everton). One can make a case for Ali Al-Habsi (Oman/Wigan), who has saved more than one game this season for Wigan, but his numbers really weren't as good as his reputation this year.

    Lloris is the first-team keeper for a Champions League club and the French national team. I am biased, but I think Howard is one of the top keepers in the EPL, which makes him, by that measure, one of the best keepers in the world.

    Which means...WE HAVE OUR FIRST AMERICAN. Right?

    WILL: It's Tim Howard for me, and for several reasons. Firstly, he's been consistently excellent for Everton and the U.S. national team. Secondly, he has exactly the stamp of authority we'll need in this team of prima donna superstars. Thirdly, he's a friend of B/R, having been interviewed by both Dan and myself—read my Q&A with him here.

    Finally, he shares a name with my father-in-law. You can't overlook your father-in-law.

    MIKE: We'll take heat for what seems like an overly obvious choice, but it's the right one. Tim Howard is an excellent keeper, regardless of who's on this list, and like Will said, he casts an authoritative figure in goal. When we automatically call Clint Dempsey the best American abroad right now (he is, by the way), we often gloss over the fact that Howard is one of the best keepers around.

    Oh, and Will, when you say "shares a name," is your father-in-law's full name Tim Howard? That would be awesome.

    WILL: Yep, he's Tim Howard too. You could say THE Tim Howard in my life. Don't ask who my favorite Tim Howard is.

    MIKE: Way to win some points there, Will, but I have to ask: Why didn't you tell Tim 2 about the Tim 1 in your interview? You could have blown his mind with some parallel universe-type questions. Remember that show Sliders? (Or did they have that in England?)

    TONY: I was going to make the case for Hugo Lloris, but there really is no point when destiny clearly has other ideas. Not that I am not a big fan of Howard's, of course.

    WILL: In the interest of fairness, check out this highlight clip of Lloris in action.

    CHRIS: Lloris is great, but Tim Howard is another level I think. Although I still think he's the second-best U.S. keeper in England, behind Brad Friedel.

    DAN: That was easy. To the defense!

Nike Defenders

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    DAN: There are significantly fewer Nike-sponsored players (per our research) than Adidas, but still more than 105 for a back line we need to cut down to four starters and at least one chap on the bench.

    The few center-backs that stand out to me: Vincent Kompany (Belgium/Man City), David Luiz (Brazil/Chelsea), Thiago Silva (Brazil/Milan), Alessandro Nesta (Italy/Milan), Rio Ferdinand (England/Man United), Eric Abidal (France/Barcelona), Gerard Pique (Spain/Barcelona), Martin Skrtel (Slovakia/Liverpool), Carles Puyol (Spain/Barcelona), Branislav Ivanovic (Serbia/Chelsea) and Sergio Ramos (Spain/Real Madrid). (Note: This list does not include Thomas Vermaelen, who was listed under Adidas during the conversation.)

    No, that list does not include American Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), nor does it include Mexican Rafa Marquez (New York Red Bulls), who has been a total disaster since moving to MLS.

    It also includes the likes of Puyol, Ramos and Ivanovic as central defenders, even though they can play any of the back line positions.

    For wings, there aren't a lot of choices, but a lot of them are good. Left-backs include Marcelo (Brazil/Real Madrid), Ashley Cole (England/Chelsea), Patrice Evra (France/Man United) and Cristian Chivu (Romania/Inter).

    Right-backs feature Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina/Man City), Gregory van der Wiel (Netherlands/Ajax) and Jose Bosingwa (Portugal/Chelsea).

    There is not a lot of depth on the wings. We don't need it on the left with four solid choices, but the right really leaves something to be desired. Do we move a left-back to the other side? Slide Ramos or another converted center-back to his original post?

    Did I miss anybody?

    WILL: Don't worry, David Luiz, I'll be fighting your corner hard when we come to the bench section here. But seeing as Puyol is coming towards the end of his reign at Barca, it appears our Nike starting XI will be sadly bereft of rampaging central defenders with retro shaggy hair. Kompany was immense in the Manchester derby, so he's clearly timed his run perfectly.

    Is he better than Thiago Silva, though? I'm not so sure. And then there's my Pique vs. Ramos debate. Two very different players. OK, I'm going for Silva and Pique centrally. On the flanks I definitely want Ashley Cole on the left. Am I allowed to have Ramos out on the right?

    There's my four—Cole, Silva, Pique, Ramos.

    CHRIS: Kompany is probably the best defender in the Premier League at the moment. I'd hate to leave him out. I'd also make a case for Skrtel because Liverpool have only scored about four goals this season and they've still managed to win a few games thanks to him. Ashley Cole is the easiest call. I still don't think there are many left-backs in the world who can knock him out of the lineup and none on Nike's list.

    Then again, it depends a little on what we're looking for. Do you want smooth-playing center-backs who will make at least one or two potentially catastrophic mistakes in the course of a game? Then David Luiz and Sergio Ramos would have to go in. Or do you want a guy who should never touch the ball other than to clear it, but won't ever be beaten?

    As for the Barca center-backs, if I had to play a season I'd take Gerard Pique. But if we're only playing one game, I ride with Carles Puyol and his ever-perm.

    Here's how I would send them out: Ashley Cole (LB), Vincent Kompany (CB), Carles Puyol (CB), Sergio Ramos (RB).

    What can I say? Ramos makes his mistakes with flair.

    DAN: I cannot believe nobody has put Marcelo on their list. Who else can push pace up the left side and get unnecessary bookings in the process?

    Seriously, I would put Kompany and Pique in the center, if only so we can make sure Shakira is in attendance. I also think he's the better play to go against the Adidas front line than Puyol. I would not complain if Thiago Silva replaced either of them.

    I'm fine with moving Ramos out to the right, as I thought he was the best right-back in the world just three or four years ago. But why not put Ashley Cole on the left and move Patrice Evra out on the right?

    I know Abidal is a non-factor at this point, but I wanted to include him so we didn't forget to collectively wish him well in his recovery. Nesta has been rumored to be coming to MLS? Does that mean we have to make sure he gets on the reserve list?

    TONY: Leaving aside his track record of being an awful person, Cole has been England's most consistent player over the past decade and is the best in his position on this list.

    In the middle I would go for Kompany and Puyol, two centre-backs who have led their sides with distinction both on and off the pitch this season. Puyol has been so good that quite often he has been the only proper defender in Barca's team and they have still won more often than not.

    Given the lack of quality at right-back, I'd move Ramos out there. Think he's better than many give him credit for, but any attacking flights of fancy that get him caught out of position will be easier to cover if he's a full-back rather than in the middle.

    CHRIS: No arguments with Tony on this point at least...Cole is the worst actual human being we'll put on the field for this game.

    DAN: It seems we are all happy with Cole as left-back, which probably says as much about us as him. Alas, this is a team built on talent, not depths of deviance.

    There seems to be a debate between Puyol or Pique, Kompany or Silva at center-back, and we can't go wrong with any combination of the four. That said, the prevailing sentiment is Kompany and Puyol, with the other two fighting for a slot on the bench.

    Ramos will slide out to right-back, but I still wonder if Evra is the more prudent choice. Let's remember that we most likely will only take one defender on the bench.

    For now, on to the midfield.

Nike Midfielders

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    DAN: We should form the Nike midfield in the same manner we chose Adidas, featuring a holding midfielder, a traditional center midfielder who can lead an attack and two wings.

    Now, I admit we might be cheating. I'm listing Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Real Madrid) as a wing, not a forward. We are playing a 4-4-2, and there are just too many forwards on the roster (Nike is very forward-heavy) to include Ronaldo there. He's better out wide anyway.

    Let's be clear—he's on the left wing. There is no debating that.

    Starting back in the defensive midfield spot, here are a few of the best options: Javier Mascherano (Argentina/Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (Spain/Barcelona), Marouane Fellaini (Belgium/Everton), Michael Essien (Ghana/Chelsea) and Raul Meireles (Portugal/Chelsea).

    I probably left out a dozen legitimate options, including any player born in England. Clearly Michael Essien is past his prime, but for one game, maybe he is worth a spot on the team?

    For the other central midfield position, it probably has to go to Andres Iniesta (Spain/Barcelona), but there are some other options as well: Alberto Aquilani (Italy/Milan), Mesut Ozil (Germany/Real Madrid), Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands/Inter), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Ghana/Milan), Scott Parker (England/Tottenham), Sami Khedira (Germany/Real Madrid), Andrea Pirlo (Italy/Juventus), Rafael van der Vaart (Netherlands/Tottenham), Ramires (Brazil/Chelsea) and Marek Hamsik (Slovakia/Napoli).

    And then there's the whole issue of the greatest living American player, Clint Dempsey (Fulham).

    Here are the other wing options to pair across from Ronaldo: Franck Ribery (France/Bayern Munich), Theo Walcott (England/Arsenal), Landon Donovan (USA/L.A. Galaxy), Flourent Malouda (France/Chelsea), Giovani Dos Santos (Mexico/Tottenham), Andre Ayew (Ghana/Marseille), Juan Mata (Spain/Chelsea) and Antonio Valencia (Ecuador/Manchester United).

    I'm sure there are some big names I missed, like Ronaldinho (Brazil/Flamengo), who seems destined for the reserve squad. I feel we are neglecting all non-European players and clubs. Alas, I go with who I know.

    Perhaps we jumble the midfield and just pick the four best players and three or four to sit on the bench? Do we need to stay to traditional positions, or can we have four attacking midfielders on the field at the same time because they are the most talented group?

    WILL: For me, Andrea Pirlo HAS TO PLAY. He's been immense this season, and I've just written an article including some of his most telling stats. He's top of assists in Serie A, and he leads Europe's top leagues on average key passes per game.

    I say ditch the defensive midfielder notion and play as a deep-lying creator alongside Iniesta centrally. Ronaldo clearly gets the left wing, so how about Ramires as an option for the right? He's been brilliant for Chelsea this season and a real big-game player, too. Mesut Ozil has also been mightily impressive, so you could justify playing him also. But for me, right now, it's Ronaldo-Pirlo-Iniesta-Ramires. That said, I'm open to convincing.

    CHRIS: I think we're assuming that Ronaldo and Iniesta are automatics here, right? That's what I'm assuming. The problem that presents with Pirlo is that by including him in the middle with Iniesta, it becomes a team that can't actually play a real game. At least not in a 4-4-2 arrangement.

    Pirlo's age and...let's call it lack of anything resembling speed or defensive impact would kill this team if he were deployed in the center with a player like Iniesta. Add Ronaldo to the mix and three of the four midfielders are defensive liabilities.

    It only works at Barca because they play with a holding player behind them and everyone presses all over the field.

    I'm actually stumping for a change of formation rather than arguing against Pirlo.

    For the right side, I'd go with Valencia over Ramires, but either one is a great choice in my mind. I'd also like to find Iker Muniain (Spain/Athletic Bilbao) a place on the bench, but we're not talking about that yet.

    DAN: This might sound sacrilegious to some, but do we have to start Iniesta?

    I'm looking at the list and honestly wondering if he is the best player for that spot, which leads to the philosophical question of whether he's so good the other players around him are better, or his teammates are so good we give him too much credit.

    Will is so high on Pirlo, but I cannot see this team without Ozil on the field. Or Sneijder for that matter.

    Yes, I know we'd be nuts to start Iniesta on the bench, but could there be a world where that is actually the best option?

    CHRIS: Yes Dan, that's sacrilegious. No Iniesta means extra years in purgatory for us all.

    MIKE: I can see this team without Sneijder. He hasn't been all that this season. I'm with you on Ozil though.

    Assuming Ronaldo and Iniesta start (yeah, we have to) along with Ozil, my fourth spot goes to Sergio Busquets. Peekaboo artist or not, he's pretty dang good.

    Don't worry, Will. Pirlo will play. He's too good to leave out. But he starts on the bench.

    CHRIS: I'm with Michael on Sneijder. It hasn't been his best year. I think we can go without him.

    If we're determined to play 4-4-2, then we could shift Ronaldo to the right wing, put Iniesta on the left and Pirlo in the center. But if we play Pirlo in a 4-4-2, we need a player like Busquets protecting him.

    I could be very happy with Ozil replacing Pirlo as well. I don't think we go wrong with either of those.

    WILL: I can definitely accept Ozil for Pirlo. And I agree with Mike on Sneijder—he's not been at his best this season. If we're insisting on putting out a defensive midfielder, maybe Busquets does give us the most balanced four—being Ronaldo-Busquets-Iniesta-Ozil. Pirlo on the bench, Ramires on the bench.

    Notable mentions for Yohan Cabaye (France/Newcastle) and Clint Dempsey, who have both been superb in the Premier League this season. Nike also have Eden Hazard (Belgium/Lille) and Mario Gotze (Germany/Borussia Dortmund), two of the most sought-after midfield talents in Europe right now.

    CHRIS: I think we only have to field a defensive midfielder if we include Pirlo in the starting lineup. Busquets merits consideration anyway, but he becomes mandatory if we start the old man from the Old Lady.

    DAN: While he may have been down this year, I think the last three years should give Sneijder at least a roster spot. But what about Juan Mata? I think he's the best wide player in the EPL right now. As much as Chris loves David Silva, that's how much I think of Mata (and I am not a Chelsea man).

    TONY: I think the midfield of Ronaldo-Iniesta-Busquets-Ozil is a cracking one, even if it is lacking a bit in natural width. Pirlo has been great for Juventus this season, making Milan look pretty foolish for allowing him to leave, but not picking Iniesta would be an unforgivable crime.

    The real fun in this is going to be deciding which midfielders make the bench!

    DAN: I just want to say, while I cast no aspersions toward Nike as a brand, I have issue with Ashley Cole and Sergio Busquets on the same team. It may be the least likeable side ever constructed, and that's before we even get to everyone's irrational jealousy toward Ronaldo.

    There are no better options than Busquets? Can we give Essien a new pair of knees, please?

    WILL: I hear what you're saying Dan, but a little bit of nasty goes a long way sometimes. Not sure there's a better defensive option than Busquets here. As for Cole, are you saying infidelity, greed and shooting air rifles at interns is not normal behavior?

    DAN: I'm not even sure I'd call Busquets "nasty." I think of guys like Pepe or De Jong as "nasty"; I think Busquets is more unsavory. He plays a style I do not find palatable, constantly flopping on the ground and pretending he is hurt when he's barely touched.

    Eh, come to think of it, I suppose he's no different than Arjen Robben, and we have him in the match.

    To the forwards!

Nike Forwards

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    DAN: I mentioned Nike was forward-heavy, but I'm not even sure I realized just how heavy its roster of talent is. More than 125 forwards top Nike's stable, though the list of viable candidates is far shorter.

    Here's my quick list: Neymar (Brazil/Santos), Carlos Tevez (Argentina/Manchester City), Wayne Rooney (England/Manchester United), Danny Welbeck (England/Manchester United), Pedro (Spain/Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina/Real Madrid), Robinho (Brazil/Milan), Pato (Brazil/Milan), Luis Fabiano (Brazil/Sao Paulo) and Didier Drogba (Cote d'Ivoire/Chelsea).

    Let's not forget Miroslav Klose (German/Lazio), Mario Balotelli (Italy/Manchester City), Chicharito (Mexico/Manchester United), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Netherlands/Schalke 04), Robert Lewandowski (Poland/Borussia Dortmund), Demba Ba (Senegal/Newcastle), Fernando Torres (Spain/Chelsea) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden/Milan).

    That's nearly 20 names, but I think a handful rise quickly to the top: Neymar, Rooney, Pato, Higuain, Drogba and Ibra.

    For starters, I'd go with Neymar and Rooney. I think.

    MIKE: Yikes. How many can we pick?

    I'd have no problem with any of these guys making the squad: Neymar, Rooney, Higuain, Drogba (he's still got it), Chicharito, Huntelaar, Lewandowski (totally underrated) and Ibrahimovic.

    With a little persuading, I'd probably even be fine with guys like Tevez, Balotelli, Robinho and Pato, all of whom are excellent but didn't necessarily have great seasons (for various reasons).

    Special reverse-mention for Marouane Chamakh. I'm pretty sure I'm a better footballer than he is.

    CHRIS: My first thought was to go with Rooney and Tevez, but I think you'd end up with madness as both ran themselves all over the field. I'd go with Rooney over Tevez for the busy all-over-the-field slot and take Ibrahimovic for the "I'll be up here when you get the ball back type."

    But I agree with Michael in that I'd be happy with any of about a dozen guys on this list.

    We can't really take Pato. He can't walk without hurting himself. His frailty baffled the doctors at Milan—the same guys who usually manage to keep players fit and in the first team until they start collecting Social Security (or whatever that's called in Europe).

    TONY: That is certainly quite the short list. Mind you, I do think you can trim that down to a few genuinely top-tier candidates.

    I think it would be nice to have Neymar in the team. He is, clearly, amazing, and it would be good to get at least one player not based in Europe in one of these teams.

    As for his strike partner, I am torn between Rooney, Drogba and Ibra. Each would bring something slightly different to the party. Is this hypothetical match being played anywhere in particular? I think that it should be played at Wembley, in which case Drogba should definitely start!

    WILL: If I was a cliché-spouting manager I'd say this is a selection problem everybody would like to have. I'll say it anyway. I think Rooney has to start, because on his day he has everything. On form, and on big-game delivery, it's hard to look beyond Zlatan "I am Zlatan" Ibrahimovic as his partner. I see the two players gelling pretty well actually.

    Then again, Tony's right—Neymar is amazing. I saw him in the flesh last year and he has the potential to be one of the defining players of his generation. So, for me, it's Rooney and either Ibra or Neymar.

    DAN: When we do the simulation (more on that later), I was going to run the match in Munich because that's where the Champions League final is being held. But Wembley is a good option too.

    As for the starters, I think it probably has to be Rooney and Neymar. If Pele calls a kid the best player in the world (ahem), he should probably start the match for us.

    CHRIS: Pele says a lot of things, most of which should be swiftly ignored.

    Although in this case, I'm not exactly arguing the point. Neymar would be fine—as would Drogba, Ibrahimovic and any number of the rest.

    If we go with Neymar, we should acknowledge that we are taking "may be great" versus several "already clearly great."

    DAN: Noted, but he is already pretty great.

    To the, gulp, BENCH!

Nike Bench and Reserves

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    DAN: The Adidas bench has seven players and then an additional five players, older veterans, on the reserve squad. Nike is loaded with offensive talent, both up front and in the attacking midfield.

    For the backup keeper, we already seemed to agree on Hugo Lloris, so he'll snag the first bench slot. The other six won't be that easy.

    We will likely only take one extra defender, coming from a formidable list of Patrice Evra, Gerard Pique, David Luiz and Thiago Silva. At this point in his career, I might throw Pique (who should be starting over Puyol, injuries for both aside) on the reserves and take Evra. We have Ramos starting out wide, so taking another center-back seems redundant.

    The midfield options are numerous, even considering we can take four midfielders and one striker to fill out our seven-man bench. We know Will may quit his job if we don't select Pirlo. We also have Sneijder, Ribery, Mata, Ramires, Walcott, Boateng, Malouda, Donovan and Dempsey to fit in. Not to mention, I still think the versatility of someone like Marouane Fellaini could come in handy. I don't know if he fits in this roster, though.

    I'm making the call to include Michael Essien on the reserves. Five years ago, he may have been the best player on either roster. I also think Ronaldinho should get a celebratory nod on the warm-up squad.

    Up front, you guys can start that fight.

    MIKE: Marouane Fellaini is such a great player. In fact, I'd argue that he was one of the prime reasons Everton held Manchester United to that 4-4 draw recently, and thus one of the main reasons United (probably) won't win the title this season. For that fact alone, I'd love to give him a spot (sorry, Will).

    But he's just not at that level, yet.

    What about Clint Dempsey? This is really hard for me. Being silly, sentimental me, I like to think we're kindred spirits (we were born at roughly the same time and both grew up playing soccer in the deeeeeeep south), but as great as he's been this season, I'm leaning towards "not yet." (I know, I know. The response to that is, "When?")

    Lloris is fine as our bench goalie. At the back, I'll take Pique. In the midfield, give me Pirlo, Mata, Sneijder (kinda leaning on reputation) and Ribery.

    And up top, I'll also wait for someone else to start the argument.

    DAN: I agree on Fellaini, but I don't on Dempsey. The guy is already in his 30s. He's had arguably the best offensive season in the entire EPL, considering who he had playing with him this season compared to the chaps up in Manchester. Heck, even Robin van Persie had more help than Dempsey.

    That said, we could run with three midfielders and two strikers, which may not help his cause. Either way, I would take Dempsey over Ribery. Nike has enough unlikeable players on its roster already.

    MIKE: Dempsey is 29, but I know what you're saying. Now is his time.

    I'm not going to fight his inclusion on the team. As an American, he's one of my favorite players. Still, I'm not quite sure he's at the level of some of these guys. But after the way he's played this season, he wouldn't be out of place.

    CHRIS: I would take either Piqué or Silva as our extra defender. I don't think you can go wrong with either.

    In midfield, I can't see leaving off Juan Mata or Pirlo. Ribery is a far better player than Dempsey no matter how good it might feel to argue against including yet another horrid human being in the Bayern player.

    Fellaini is a fine player, but I'd rather see us take someone like Muniain or Valencia. Valencia probably deserves it more. He gets my last vote.

    I'll start the forward fight. If we only get one, I stump for Ibra. A big game needs big egos, and they don't come any bigger.

    WILL: I think Pique probably makes the most sense as defensive cover. You won't be surprised to learn Pirlo makes my bench selection. I'd go with Mata and Ribery above Dempsey on talent, but you can't question Dempsey's goal scoring this season, for a fairly toothless Fulham. So maybe all three make it. Ibrahimovic is, as you Americans might say, a "no-brainer." That leaves my bench looking like this: Lloris, Pique, Pirlo, Mata, Dempsey, Ribery, Ibrahimovic.

    Valencia had a shout at the start of the season, but he's faded for me. Muniain is going to be a great player, but he's not quite there for me yet. He'll get a big move soon enough though, and we'll see a lot more of him.

    DAN: If this team scores first, there will be no sitting back and holding a lead, as we have zero defensive midfielders on the bench.

    I also think we are about to set a roster without Wesley Sneijder. Is that possible? Is my Clint Dempsey jingoistic infatuation clouding sound soccer judgement?

    And will no one stump for Landon Donovan?

    For the forwards, Ibra is the obvious choice, but that means Drogba is relegated to the reserves and Higuain is relegated to watching the match on TV with the rest of us.

    CHRIS: Sneijder hasn't had a great year. He's a better player than Dempsey, but if we're going on form, then Dempsey should go ahead of him.

    And there's no argument to be made for Donovan in this team. He isn't good enough. Dempsey isn't really either in general, but it's hard to argue with his production. Although Yak scored a lot this season also and no one tried too hard to put him in this game.

    DAN: I think you are looking too closely at just this year. Yes, we want players on form, but we put Puyol on the back line and he may not even be healthy for Euros after surgery. Just two years ago, Sneijder was a finalist for World Player of the Year and helped lead his Dutch side to the World Cup finals. That has to be worth something.

    CHRIS: Yes you have. Take away this season and Dempsey isn't close to getting in this team.

    TONY: Glad common sense has prevailed regarding Dempsey. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan, but come on.

    I think a foursome of Ramires, Pirlo, Mata and Valencia has pretty much all bases covered, in my opinion. Pirlo sitting deep keeping the ball can be as effective as having a destroyer type screening the defence in its own way.

    As for the extra forward, the correct answer is Ibra.

    DAN: Tony, you are suggesting we take both Chelsea wings over Sneijder or Ribery? I think it might have to be an either/or with Ramires and Mata. I'd almost lean neither before both, and I'm almost in love with Mata as a complete player.

    CHRIS: I'd back Ribery over Ramires and take Mata also. I like Ramires, but I don't think I'd take him over either of the other two.

    TONY: My reasoning is that Mata can excel both out wide on the left or fully in behind the striker, while Ramires is a hard-running box-to-box man who can fill most other roles in midfield, something that is a great asset for a substitute. Clearly, Ribery is a better footballer than Ramires, but he is far less adaptable and Mata can take his role on the left.

    As for Sneijder, between Pirlo and Mata, we have him covered too. It was very difficult to leave out Sneijder, and I'm sure I will be outvoted on him anyway.

    Dan: I think I'm outvoted on Sneijder. The Nike Reserve squad is going to be full of people I just want to hug.

    This is hard because there are no wrong answers, making every possible answer feel wrong in some way.

    We know this: Lloris is the backup keeper, and it looks like Pique is the only defender on the bench. Ibra is the lone option up front.

    Mike likes Pirlo, Mata, Ribery and Sneijder.

    Chris likes Pirlo, Mata, Ribery and Valencia.

    Will likes Pirlo, Pirlo, Pirlo and Pirlo. And Mata, Ribery and Dempsey.

    Tony likes Pirlo, Mata, Ramires and Valencia.

    Dan likes Pirlo, Mata, Sneijder and Dempsey.

    It looks like Pirlo, Mata and Ribery are on the bench. I'm fine with Ribery replacing Dempsey, putting the best living American field player on the reserves. Now to chose the last bench spot between Sneijder, Valencia and Ramires. Unless we want to revisit adding another forward (I'm kidding...).

    WILL: On this season, Ramires. On the last five seasons, Sneijder.

    DAN: Will and Tony do make sense. If we are looking for a player off the bench, it should be someone with pace who can spell a player we expect might be substituted. If Iniesta were to come off the field, we have Pirlo on the bench. If Sneijder fills the same role, I've come to terms with including Ramires instead.

    That gives Nike a bench of Lloris, Pique, Pirlo, Mata, Ribery, Ramires and Ibrahimovic. Lots of pace, lots of offense...defense optional.

    It gives us a reserve list of Dempsey, Sneijder, Essien, Drogba and, yes, Ronaldinho.

    Nike and Adidas—two rather formidable squads. Now to figure out which team would win!