As Peru defeated New Zealand today, the final competitor at 2018’s FIFA World Cup in Russia was set. Throughout June and July, the world’s best will duke it out for eternal glory. Germany look a strong favourite to retain their title, while the French could knock Die Mannschaft off their throne. Neymar is looking to fulfil his £200m price tag and return the World Cup to Brazil. It is set to be a terrific tournament.
Unfortunately, this means we must say goodbye to some players until the next cycle. Perennial powerhouses Italy and Holland miss out, so do budding football nation the USA. So, let’s take a look at the best eleven players to miss out.
The Best XI Not At The World Cup
Gianluigi Buffon – Italy
It is impossible to pick anyone else. The Italian stalwart would have attended his fourth consecutive World Cup, but instead retired from international football immediately following Italy’s defeat to Sweden in the play-off. A decorated career filled with terrific memories, it truly is a loss to see Buffon’s World Cup swan song.
David Alaba – Austria
Alaba’s Austria finished a disappointing fourth in their group in UEFA qualifying, not even making the play-off. Alaba often found himself playing in the middle of midfield for the Austrians, attempting to assert as much influence over games as possible. Disappointing results against the other competitive teams in their group unfortunately sealed their fate.
Giorgio Chiellini – Italy
Much the same as Buffon, this was Chiellini’s last shot at international glory. The 33-year-old Italian is starting to slow down but was still an integral part of the Azzurri success. A disappointing team performance against Sweden over two legs saw Chiellini shelling crosses into the Swedish penalty area. An upsetting end to a terrific international career, Chiellini retired from international football after the match.
Stefan De Vrij – Netherlands
De Vrij is one of the younger players on this list, as Holland bombed out in a spectacularly poor qualifying campaign. Dick Advocaat resigned following the game, as Holland looked in disarray. Confusing line-up selections, shocking defensive displays, and generally poor play from the Dutch sees De Vrij left at home. Unfortunate for a player, whose last World Cup display earned him a step up the ladder, in a move to Lazio.
Antonio Valencia – Ecuador
The reliable Manchester United right-back fell short of qualifying from CONMEBOL, as Ecuador finished six points out. Disappointing away form unfortunately barred the Ecuadorians from making a serious push. Valencia’s high flying form at Manchester United is a big miss this summer in Russia, but given his standing with his nation, the 32-year-old could feature in Ecuador’s next push.
Arturo Vidal – Chile
A walking missile, Arturo Vidal is one of this summer’s biggest misses. A destructive midfielder who can do it all misses out as Chile were one of the surprise failures of this cycle’s qualification. Successive Copa America wins and a final appearance at the Confederations Cup, while being a top 10 FIFA ranked team means Chile are shocked to be left at home. With an ageing core in Vidal, Medel, Sanchez and Bravo, Chile might be on the rebuild for a while.
Marek Hamsik – Slovakia
Possibly the unluckiest player to not be on the plane to Russia, Napoli’s Hamsik misses out as Slovakia were the worst second place team in UEFA qualifying. So close yet so far. The Slovakian’s performances this season, as Napoli have mounted a terrific challenge for the Scudetto, have been nothing short of spectacular. Touted with big moves every summer since moving to Naples, his iconic mohawk will be missed on the big stage.
Christian Pulisic – USA
The youngest player on this list, this was to be the breakout tournament for the young American. Plying his trade with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, he has gone from small-town American to a world star. Linked with moves to Spurs and Liverpool, Pulisic may well turn out to be one of America’s greatest stars. A horrific qualifying cycle under Jurgen Klinnsman and Bruce Arena saw the US bail out after a disastrous loss to Trinidad and Tobago. The USA have a difficult task ahead of them to build going forward, but that is made a lot easier building around the wonder boy that is Pulisic.
Gareth Bale – Wales
Gareth Bale is one of the world’s best. Unfortunately, he misses out on Russia this summer, much the way he missed out on most of qualifying due to injury. A fit Gareth Bale might see Wales into the playoff, or even topping their group. A mercurial winger with a devilish left foot, physically gifted, on his day, Bale is unplayable. Unfortunately, due to injury, that day does not come very often. He will be a big miss this summer.
Alexis Sanchez – Chile
A disappointing club season so far was made even worse as Chile missed out on the tiebreaker in CONMEBOL qualifying for Alexis Sanchez. With only a year left on his contract, this World Cup could have been the grandest pre-season audition of all time. It is expected that Sanchez will leave Arsenal, but that will now certainly be happening before June. The winger/wide forward has been stellar over the past 18 months, scoring goals for fun and charging about the pitch with reckless abandon. He will be missed in Russia.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Gabon
Aubameyang may well be one of the world’s best strikers at the moment as he is scoring goals in for fun. Unfortunately, his lack of a supporting cast with Gabon on the national level sees him miss out on Russia 2018. Gabon’s record goal-scorer, he has only ever lead his team as deep as the African Cup of Nations quarter-final. Another top striker missing out on the World’s greatest competition.
The World Cup kicks off June 15 in Moscow. Tickets go on sale November 16 at 12 Noon Moscow Time.