Vini Jr., Rodrygo lead 2024 best South American XI in Europe

90 years ago Italy won the World Cup with three Argentines in the team and a Brazilian in the squad. A couple of decades later Alfredo Di Stefano arrived at Real Madrid, via Colombia and his native Argentina, to change the course of European football and perhaps even the continent’s history. He was the main attraction as a risky venture like the European Cup, now known as the Champions League, swiftly became a must-see success.

South American players, then, have long been making a vital contribution to the European game across the Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga and Serie A, and this season has been no exception. This, in a vague 4-3-3 formation, is a team selection made up of South Americans who have starred in the 2023-24 European season.

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International team: Argentina
Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 31
Club team: Aston Villa

Martinez developed at Arsenal for almost long enough to qualify for a pension, and has come into his own after moving to Aston Villa and becoming undisputed first choice. He solved Argentina’s long running goalkeeping problem from the moment that he joined the team in 2021. Now he carries the prestige and the presence of a World Cup winner wherever he goes, filling the goal with a combination of technique and charisma. He was badly missed when injury struck towards the end of the season, but played a big part in Villa making it into the Champions League.


International team: Brazil
Position: Right-back
Age: 27
Club team: Porto

Pepê left Brazil as a right winger, but after three seasons in Portugal he has grown massively in versatility. He can now play as a number 10, and also operate in any role down the right flank, including full-back. He gets into our team as a quick attacking option from the back, in a position where there is not a great deal of top class competition. And he earned a late call up for the Copa America.


International team: Brazil
Position: Centre-back
Age: 27
Club team: Juventus

Bremer is a hulking presence in the heart of the defence. His performance level perhaps dipped towards the end of the campaign, but on the whole enjoyed a highly successful second season with Juventus. He moved abroad (to Torino) early, meaning that he does not have a large constituency in the Brazilian press and public — surely a contributory factor in his initial exclusion from the Copa America squad. Bremer then gained a late call up when the squad was increased to 26 players.


International team: Brazil
Position: Centre-back
Age: 26
Club team: Arsenal

Gabriel is a combative and classy left-footed centre-back who played a massive role in Arsenal going through the season with the best defensive record in the Premier League. He always had strong personality and leadership potential, but this season appears to have smoothed out some of the hot tempered excesses and he’s become more dependable.

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International team: Ecuador
Position: Left-back
Age: 22
Club team: Bayer Leverkeusen

It seemed like a gamble three years ago when Leverkeusen acquired Hincapie after three games in Ecuador and 22 in Argentina. He played an error prone 2021 Copa America, but his new club have developed him well as a left-sided centre-back — and gets into this side sliding across in the middle and allowing Pepe to advance. He brings the ball out well and has excellent recovery speed.


International team: Uruguay
Position: Midfielder
Age: 25
Club team: Real Madrid

The unsung hero of Carlo Ancelotti’s team, Valverde covers holes and creates opportunities with his touches of quality and his extraordinary lung power. The force of his quiet leadership is probably more apparent now with the national team, where he is the king of the hill, but his importance to Real Madrid is no less pronounced. On the pitch, he balances it all out.


International team: Argentina
Position: Midfielder
Age: 26
Club team: Bayer Leverkeusen

Palacios is an imperious central midfielder who has now put together three solid seasons in Germany, and in this last one was a linchpin in the heart of Xabi Alonso’s all conquering team, winning the ball and giving rhythm to the team in possession. He has been on the fringes of the national team for a few years. Could the Copa America be his breakthrough moment?

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International team: Argentina
Position: Midfielder
Age: 25
Club team: Liverpool

When he first came to England, MacAllister was facing an obvious question: where would he fit in? It was hard to see him having enough pace or presence to play as a number 10 or even from the wings. Brighton solved the problem by dropping him deeper, and Liverpool have reaped the benefits, using him in a role where he can pick his pass from deeper and then pick his moment to join up with the attack.


International team: Brazil
Position: Forward
Age: 23
Club team: Real Madrid

Rodrygo is a wonderfully talented and versatile player able to operate across or just behind the tracking line. He already has five successful seasons behind him at Real Madrid, and continues to grow in importance, coming up with vital goals on big occasions.


International team: Argentina
Position: Forward
Age: 26
Club team: Inter MIlan

Martinez is a centre-forward who carries himself on the field like a hammer-headed shark, a dangerous predator who led the attacking line in fine style as Inter cruised to the Italian Championship. He would love to carry the same form into the national team. He did appear to suffer a crisis of confidence during the Qatar World Cup, where he lost his place to Julián Álvarez. The pair will surely be operating together in a post-Messi era.


International team: Brazil
Position: Forward
Age: 23
Club team: Real Madrid

Vinicius Jr.’ move to Europe changed the market. Paying around £40 million to sign an untried 16-year-old seemed absurd. Now, it comes across as an absolute bargain. The winger blows defences away with a combination of blistering pace, improvisation at top speed plus increasing precision and growing game intelligence. He’s the can opener, the one his teammates look to when a goal is needed, and is surely on course to be the first Brazilian Ballon D’Or winner since Kaka in 2007.

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SUBSTITUTES

GK, Éderson, Brazil/Manchester City, 30 years old: Had an injury hit season, but even so was important to his club’s fourth consecutive league title, as a brave, imposing keeper with unparalleled distribution skills.

CB, Sebastián Coates, Uruguay/Sporting Lisbon, 33: Gangling centre-back who was never the quickest or the classiest, but is a leader who has been key to his club’s league triumph.

CM, Douglas Luiz, Brazil/Aston Villa, 26: Enjoyed a triumphant season in Villa’s unexpected charge to the Champions League as an all round central midfielder with a rocket shot.

CM, Fred, Brazil/Fenerbahce, 31: Much maligned but badly missed, both by Manchester United and Brazil. Successfully took his unselfish central midfield running to Turkey.

FW, Ángel Di María, Argentina/Benfica, 36: Veteran winger who will be badly missed when he calls it a day. A genuine star without a star’s ego who spent the season making things easier for his Benfica teammates.

FW, Savinho, Brazil/Girona, 20: Left-footed winger able to operate on either flank who was an exciting part of Girona’s unexpected bid to win the Spanish title.

FW, Mauro Icardi, Argentina/Galatasaray, 31: Does little apart from put the ball in the back of the net, but, despite missing some of the season with injury, was still the top scorer in the Turkish league, tipping the balance in the title race towards his team.