ESPN's alternative African World Cup group stage dream team

Kylian Mbappe is eligible for Cameroon but plays for France. Visionhaus/Getty Images

It has been a remarkable World Cup group stage for Africa's nations, with records being broken, major scalps being taken, and Morocco and Senegal both making it through to the knockouts.

But what about the players who could have represented African nations but instead opted to feature for other international sides at the highest level?

Four years ago, France won the World Cup with a squad full of African-origin players, and in Qatar, numerous talents who could have represented the continent have been among the tournament's top players so far.

To celebrate the end of an engrossing opening round, ESPN have put together our Alternative African World Cup Dream Team, compiling our best XI of players from the group stage who could have represented African sides at senior level.

Goalkeeper: Meshaal Barsham

This pick was a straight choice between Qatar's Barsham and France's Steve Mandanda, who stepped in for Hugo Lloris in Les Bleus' 1-0 defeat by Tunisia.

Barsham was beaten five times across two matches -- against Senegal and the Netherlands -- but he did make a strong early stop to deny Daley Blind, and could do little to prevent Cody Gakpo from opening the scoring in the second match.

He also made a strong block to deny Memphis Depay in the build-up to the second Dutch goal, demonstrating his acrobatic qualities between the sticks.

The 24-year-old was born in Doha, and is of Sudanese descent.

Centre-back: Dayot Upamecano

Unsurprisingly, France are well represented in our Alternative African World Cup XI, with Upamecano the first of four Bleus players to be included.

The Bayern Munich man has become a mainstay of the backline, looking comfortable on the ball and resolute without it.

He's currently in the tournament's top ten for both average passes per match and pass accuracy -- testament to his influence in possession and his unerring ability to find his man -- while his ambitious long-range passing has helped France change the tempo and break through ranked backlines.

The former RB Leipzig man is a descendent of Bissau-Guinean royalty.

Centre-back: Ibrahima Konate

Despite only making his international debut for France in June, Konate looks a natural at international level, and, having played in a Champions League final, it's perhaps understandable that he looks unfazed by the prospect of World Cup football.

Born in Paris to Malian parents, he broke a FIFA record in the 1-0 defeat by Tunisia, becoming the first player at the tournament to register 11 tackles in a single match -- a feat later equalled by teammate Eduardo Camavinga.

He deputised for Raphael Varane in the victory over Australia, and Didier Deschamps must now decide whether the Liverpool or Manchester United man gets the nod alongside Upamecano for the meeting with Poland and Robert Lewandowski.

Centre-back: Nathan Ake

Rounding off our back three is Ake, who opted for an international future with the Netherlands despite being eligible for the Cote d'Ivoire.

He's looked comfortable in the Dutch backline so far this tournament, enjoying a fine understanding with Virgil van Dijk and youngster Jurrien Timber.

Buoyed perhaps by his increased gametime at Manchester City this season, Ake has appeared commanding, authoritative and comfortable in possession, although he did struggle with Enner Valencia's physicality as the Netherlands were held by Ecuador.

- Ed Dove: African teams break records at World Cup

Central midfield: Aurelien Tchouameni

Like many of his teammates, Tchouameni wasn't at his best in the shock defeat by Tunisia, but he certainly made up for that with outstanding midfield displays against Australia and Denmark as the reigning champions cruised into the knockouts.

His performances have been characterised by a sharp, controlled and occasionally ambitious use of the ball, with no other player to have started three matches registering a better pass accuracy than Tchouameni's 96.9 percent.

With N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba both injured, there had been questions about the make-up and effectiveness of France's midfield, but with Tchouameni's poise allowing the team's attacking talents to express themselves, concerns are fading.

The 22-year-old could have represented Cameroon.

Central midfield: Yunus Musah

Born in New York City to Ghanaian parents, much was expected of Musah heading into the World Cup -- and he hasn't disappointed.

His technique, honed in La Liga at Valencia, has helped give the United States more control and options in the midfield than they've enjoyed at World Cups past, while his work rate and dribbling ability have also been showcased.

He was particularly magnificent in the victory over Iran as the United States booked their place in the Last 16, appearing -- at times -- to be on a one-man mission to drag the USA into the knockouts.

Central midfield: Jamal Musiala

It's a bitter shame for the tournament that Germany's Musiala is departing after just three matches, with the wonderkid proving to be among the most watchable talents of the opening weeks of this tournament.

Despite only being 19, he's attempted to carry a dysfunctional Germany side forward, demonstrating immense maturity and technical nous while attempting to lift those around him.

Musiala, who could have represented England or Nigeria, continues to be linked with a move to Real Madrid, while Germany head coach Hansi Flick has tipped him to be the future of the national side -- despite this difficult World Cup debut.

No player has completed more dribbles per match than Musiala -- averaging 6.3 per 90 minutes, almost twice as many as Alphonso Davies in second -- while he also set up Niclas Fullkrug for Germany's critical equaliser against Spain.

It's a shame he can't stick around in Qatar.

Right wing: Bukayo Saka

There was genuine disappointment in Nigeria when Saka opted to represent England in 2020, despite rumours that he was primed to commit to the Super Eagles, and his performances in Qatar are reaffirming why he could have been the future of the West African nation.

Nigeria's loss is England's gain, with Saka the star man as the Three Lions began their campaign with a 6-2 demolition of Iran.

The versatile 21-year-old brought his Arsenal form to Qatar in that dazzling opener, but may now face a battle to retain his place in the side against Senegal after struggling against the USA and then being rested for the Wales bout.

Nonetheless, his ability to run in behind and test defences with his pace will make him an ominous prospect for Senegal's backline, at whatever stage he's introduced.

Left wing: Kylian Mbappe

Following his heroics in 2018, where he was influential as France won their second World Cup crown, Mbappe was tipped a potential Player of the Tournament heading into this year's edition.

He's certainly lived up to expectations in Qatar, setting himself up as the early front-runner for both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball.

The 23-year-old added France's third in their 4-1 thumping of Australia, and then scored a second-half brace as Denmark were dispatched. He's also averaged 5.3 shots per match this tournament - more than any other player.

Eligible for Cameroon, could Mbappe help France become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the World Cup?

Striker: Cody Gakpo

The breakout star of the tournament, Gakpo has made it very apparent why Erik ten Hag is reportedly viewing the 23-year-old as a key part of his Manchester United rebuild.

The PSV Eindhoven attacker scored in each of the Netherlands' group stage games, but must now prove he can do it against tougher opponents after the Dutch encountered little trouble in the opening round.

Of Togolese and Ghanaian descent, Gakpo has relished the pressure of leading the line for his country, albeit in a more central role from where he operates at club level.

Striker: Breel Embolo

It's rare indeed that a player refuses to celebrate their first World Cup goal, but Embolo did exactly that after firing Switzerland into the lead against Cameroon in their Group G opener.

The striker merely raised his hands calmly after finding space in the Indomitable Lions' backline and finishing beyond Andre Onana, paying a sign of respect to the country where he was born.

He's one of 136 players in Qatar representing a country other than the one in which they were born, but the only one who's scored against that same nation at the tournament.

"He's my little brother," Cameroon head coach Rigobert Song said after the match. "Just because we're on different teams, it doesn't mean we're not still brothers."

Substitutes: Steve Mandanda, Ethan Ampadu, Alphonso Davies, Eduardo Camavinga, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry, Ousmane Dembele.