The World Cup missing XI: Bale, Sanchez and…

Date published: Wednesday 15th November 2017 11:52

Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak (Slovenia/Atletico Madrid)
Voted the best goalkeeper in La Liga for the past two years – and one of three goalkeepers to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or this year – the 24-year-old’s hopes of appearing at a first major tournament were dashed by being Slovenian. If you concede three goals in two games to the midgets of Scotland, we have little sympathy.

 

Right-back: Antonio Valencia (Ecuador/Manchester United)
A string of consistent performances at right-back led to Valencia being named players’ player of the year at Old Trafford last season but the 32-year-old could not inspire Ecuador to what would have been his third World Cup. They had a disastrous campaign, losing their last six qualifying matches (though Valencia was suspended for the Lionel Messi show on Tuesday night). Jose Mourinho may be having a word about international retirement as we speak.

 

Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk (Holland/Southampton)
Van Dijk has made no secret of his desire to leave St Mary’s but, if he is still there next June, he will miss the opportunity to showcase his talents on the biggest stage following Holland’s third-placed finish in UEFA qualifying Group A. He can at least argue that the Dutch lost only one of the six games he played.

 

Centre-back: Giorgio Chiellini (Italy/Juventus)
One of four to retire after Italy’s embarrassing failure to advance past Sweden in a qualification play-off, Chiellini cannot even claim to have a previous World Cup winner’s medal in his collection. Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi were all part of the successful 2006 squad, but not Chiellini. The Juventus centre-half’s most memorable World Cup moment remains being Luis Suarez’s lunch.

 

Left-back: David Alaba (Austria/Bayern Munich)
A winner of six Bundesliga titles and the Champions League, Alaba’s international career (largely spent in midfield) has been less illustrious with Austria’s abysmal Euro 2016 campaign his only experience of a major tournament. It must smart a little that they won their last two qualifying games in his absence through ankle injury.

 

Central midfield: Naby Keita (Guinea/RB Leipzig)
The Liverpool-bound midfielder will be fresh when he arrives at Anfield next summer after Guinea could not qualify from a group containing Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya. In fact, they won just once (against Libya) in five matches, though Keita at least managed to score against Tunisia.

 

Central midfield: Arturo Vidal (Chile/Bayern Munich)
Chile’s key midfielder – who starred in the last two World Cups – was suspended for Chile’s final qualifier against Brazil and watched on powerless from Munich as his team were eliminated. Not everybody is shedding tears for Vidal…

 

Attacking midfield: Gareth Bale (Wales/Real Madrid)
It has been a positive few years for Wales but the Euro 2016 semi-finalists were pipped to a play-off spot by the Republic of Ireland, meaning Bale’s wait for a first World Cup goes on. They lost only one game – to Ireland – and an injured Bale had to watch from the stands.

 

Attacking midfield: Arjen Robben (Holland/Bayern Munich)
A veteran of three World Cups, Robben announced his retirement from international football shortly after scoring twice against Sweden in the final match of Holland’s unsuccessful qualification campaign. He had more than done his bit with six goals in seven qualifying games, but after 96 games and 37 goals, it is time to hang up the orange shirt.

 

Attacking midfield: Alexis Sanchez (Chile/Arsenal)
Chile suffered last-minute heartbreak as they were pushed out of a play-off place when Peru equalised against Colombia, meaning the Arsenal star will not be sprinting up the flanks for La Roja in Russia. To be fair, he is probably due a break after four consecutive summer tournaments. It’s ironic that his first summer off will come when the Gunners will no longer feel the benefit.

 

Striker: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon/Borussia Dortmund)
Gabon have never qualified for the World Cup and the African country’s shortage of top-class players – Mario Lemina aside – means talented forward Aubameyang may never have the opportunity to play at one. Their only win in this year’s qualification campaign – over Ivory Coast – came when Aubameyang was refusing to play for his country.

 

Substitutes:
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy/Juventus)
Daley Blind (Holland/Manchester United)
Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia and Herzegovina/Juventus)
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia/Napoli)
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia/Manchester United)
Riyad Mahrez (Algeria/Leicester)
Edin Dzeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina/Roma)

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