For all the La Liga stars who will be representing their countries at the World Cup this summer, there are plenty more who didn’t make the grade. This is an XI of the best of those who’ll be on the beach while their compatriots battle it out in Russia.
Players selected for this line-up must have been called up for their country before, not be explicitly retired from internationals, and their country must have qualified for the finals. Here we go…
Goalkeeper: Neto (Valencia and Brazil)
Although yet to make an appearance for his national side, Neto can count himself unlucky not to have landed a place in Brazil’s squad for Russia following an excellent season guarding Valencia’s goal. While Roma’s Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson are understandably ahead of him in the pecking order, he might well have fancied his chances of making the squad as third-choice keeper, but ultimately Corinthians keeper Cássio was preferred by Brazil manager Tite.
Right-back: Nélson Semedo (Barcelona and Portugal)
Despite winning a league and cup double, it has been a difficult first season in Spain for Nélson Semedo. The Portuguese right-back joined from Benfica last summer to great fanfare, with the hope that he could fill the significant gap left by Dani Alves the previous year. He has underwhelmed somewhat, only managing 17 league starts, but would still have expected to go to Russia this summer. As it turns out, new Leicester signing Ricardo Pereira was chosen in his stead.
Centre-back: Marc Bartra (Real Betis and Spain)
No new signing had such a positive impact on their team this year as Marc Bartra. In January, the Catalan defender arrived at Real Betis from Borussia Dortmund, and transformed their leaky defence into one of the best in La Liga. His outstanding performances formed the basis for Betis’ unlikely charge into sixth place, and he was hotly tipped for a seat on the plane to Russia. In the end, to the surprise of many, Spain manager Julen Lopetegui couldn’t find a place for Bartra in his squad.
Centre-back: Ezequiel Garay (Valencia and Argentina)
Garay may not have played for the national side since the opening game of their qualifying campaign back in October 2015, but he was hopeful that his form at Valencia would lead to a call from Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli. The experienced defender insisted that reports he had rejected previous international call-ups were wide of the mark, and that he was available and committed if selected. Sampaoli had other ideas, though, and Garay didn’t even make it into his 35-man preliminary squad.
Left-back: Lucas Digne (Barcelona and France)
Lucas Digne has been a regular for the French national side for the past four years, but the same can’t be said about his two years at Barcelona. He only featured in 12 league games for the Spanish champions this term, and his lack of game-time may well have been a factor in Didier Deschamps’ decision to omit him from his World Cup squad. Digne did make the standby list, but ultimately missed out to Atlético Madrid’s Lucas Hernández and Benjamin Mendy of Manchester City.
Right wing: Sergi Roberto (Barcelona and Spain)
Sergi Roberto was a key player for Barcelona this season as they stormed to a domestic double, and was a very surprising omission from Spain’s World Cup squad. A talented, committed and hard-working player who is comfortable playing at right-back, on the right wing or in central midfield, his versatility may be missed in Russia. Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal and Álvaro Odriozola of Real Sociedad made the grade ahead of him, with Lopetegui preferring to take a “specific right-back” in his stead.
Central midfield: André Gomes (Barcelona and Portugal)
Gomes was a member of Portugal’s victorious Euro 2016 squad, and his performances for the national side and for Valencia earned him a €35m move to Barcelona in the same summer. His career at Barça started brightly, but his form soon dipped and he found himself in and out of the side. He only managed six starts for the champions this season, and back in March he spoke candidly about how the pressures of playing top-level football had affected him psychologically. Although he made the preliminary 35-man squad, he was a surprise omission from the final 23.
Central midfield: Geoffrey Kondogbia (Valencia and France)
After joining on loan from Inter last summer, Kondogbia was at the heart of Valencia’s surge back into the Champions League after years in the doldrums. His superb form in Los Che’s engine room led many to tip him for a place in Deschamps’ squad after three years in the international wilderness, but Paul Pogba, Corentin Tolisso, N’Golo Kanté, Steven Nzonzi and Blaise Matuidi all stood in his way.
Left wing: Vitolo (Atlético Madrid and Spain)
For the first year of Lopetegui’s reign as Spain manager, Vitolo was a regular feature in the selección, and at the start of this season it looked as though he would be a shoo-in for Russia. However, his form took something of a nosedive after his incredibly convoluted move from Sevilla to Atlético Madrid via Las Palmas, and he hasn’t featured for Spain since a 3-3 draw with Russia back in November. By the time of the squad announcement, few were surprised when Vitolo’s name was left off the list.
Forward: Willian José (Real Sociedad and Brazil)
The uncapped Brazilian forward forced his way into Tite’s thinking for Brazil’s World Cup squad after an excellent season for Real Sociedad in which he found the net 20 times. He was selected for Brazil’s friendlies against Russia and Germany back in March, but didn’t make it off the bench in either game. It was always unlikely he would make it to Russia when he has the likes of Neymar, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus ahead of him, but he can still be slightly aggrieved that he wasn’t given the chance to impress for the national side before the squad was named.
Forward: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)
Benzema’s difficult relationship with the French national side has been well documented, and he hasn’t featured for his country in nearly three years since he was investigated for his role in an alleged blackmail of team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. Since then, he has won the Champions League three times, but hasn’t been called up for France despite Deschamps insisting he was in his thoughts. It would have been a huge surprise had he been selected, particularly with France’s embarrassment of attacking riches, but he is undoubtedly one of the most talented players to miss out this summer.
Honourable mentions: Sergio Rico (Sevilla and Spain), Gabriel Paulista (Valencia and Brazil), Iñigo Martínez (Athletic Club and Spain), Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad and Spain), Dani Parejo (Valencia and Spain), Rodri (Atlético Madrid and Spain), Daniel Wass (Celta de Vigo and Denmark), Paco Alcácer (Barcelona and Spain), Iñaki Williams (Athletic Club and Spain), Joaquín Correa (Sevilla and Argentina), Ángel Correa (Atlético Madrid and Argentina), Nolito (Sevilla and Spain).