The soccer World Cup is under way, with 32 national teams now camped in the Middle East to compete for glory.
While the choice of host, Qatar, has been controversial due to the country's human rights record, billions of soccer fans will still tune in to barrack for their flag. The sport is a matter of life and death in many parts of the world.
As Australia prepares for its first game kicking off early Wednesday morning, Abrdn investment manager and soccer enthusiast Shawn Lee couldn't help himself.
He has picked his own team of 11 ASX shares that would lead his portfolio to a World Cup win:
"We need a good communicator with quick reflexes guarding our goal," Lee said on the Abrdn blog.
"Auckland Airport's prompt response to the COVID crisis was impressive. It moved swiftly to rein in its cost base, pausing large capital projects and preemptively raising emergency capital."
With the world now well into the post-pandemic era, he feels like Auckland Airport can "fend off the ups and down of economic cycles" and offers its investors a monopoly asset.
Left and right backs
According to Lee, left back Bapcor Ltd (ASX: BAP) is "one of the most compelling defensive players".
"Even though Bapcor has had a recent change of coach, new chief executive Noel Meehan has progressively won over the dressing room to restore our team's stability," he said.
"Although many things may not be 'better than before', we think Bapcor has a long playing career ahead and, allied to reasonable valuation, demands a place in our starting line-up."
The right back position will be taken by real estate fund Centuria Capital Group (ASX: CNI).
"We wanted a versatile full-back that's quick on its feet, with good anticipation and composure," said Lee.
"Centuria fits the bill nicely, with its nimbleness evident as it pivots its core unlisted funds business."
He admitted office assets were under a cloud in the post-COVID era, but the company has other fires burning.
"Centuria continues to seek out growth by pivoting its product towards other property sub-sectors more in vogue – including healthcare, industrial property and agriculture investments."
"We want our centre backs to provide as much pitch coverage as possible, and Infratil's portfolio of other core investments span a range of sectors such as data centres, telecommunications, retirement living and electricity generation," he said.
"We think Infratil is staying one step ahead of a fast-evolving game – evident through its investment in solar/wind farm developer and operator Long Road Energy."
Animal feed producer Ridley is on the radar of many experts at the moment.
"Ridley's defensive psyche is finely tuned, with the majority of customer contracts allowing it to pass through inflationary costs, while its mix of divisional exposures should also provide some protection against adverse weather," said Lee.
"After shedding excess, some might say Ridley has a small frame. But this player still packs a punch."
"Like any good midfielder, IPH is in excellent condition and is no stranger to playing the endurance game, especially given that the patent lifecycle and corresponding workflow can span 20 years or more," said Lee.
"We drafted AUB in to play a crucial role in our team as we believe its traditional defensive strengths are being nicely complemented by an improving offensive game."
Monadelphous sounds like a biotech, but it's actually a Perth-based mining services provider.
"It has an exemplary operating track record, differentiating it from what is otherwise a peer group of service providers that typically experience booms and busts," Lee said.
"Midfield is often referred to as the engine room of the team, and the WA resources engine is most definitely humming!"
"Wingers need good ball control to get in behind opposition defences and set up attempts on goal. We believe IDP has excellent skills and a few tricks in its locker," he said.
"In between digitising the business through computer-based IELTS testing, the acquisition of online course database provider Hotcourses, the launch of marketplace platforms such as IDP live, the shrewd purchase of IELTS India and thriving amid the COVID crisis that otherwise devastated the international student industry, we think the business has executed almost flawlessly and consistently made fools of opposing defences."
Hub24 has "had more shots at goal than many of its peers".
"Speed is a key attribute of good wingers, and this is where Hub24 does not disappoint," said Lee.
"Platform funds under administration have grown at breakneck speed since the business was established in 2007, in part due to tailwinds from the move towards independent financial advice, but also as a result of innovative platform technology and a superior customer experience."
Finally, the big goal scorer in the centre forward position is Pro Medicus Limited (ASX: PME).
"We can't fault Pro Medicus's hot scoring streak, announcing multiple record-sized cloud-based contract wins, together with strong renewal momentum on improved pricing and contractual terms," said Lee.
"Not only do we anticipate conversion of the contract pipeline, we think the business has enhanced its scalability through cloud-based deployment, which will grow its addressable market meaningfully and allow it to penetrate a smaller customer base previously deemed to be less economic."