The absence of a number of traditional big hitters means many of the world’s best players will be missing at Russia 2018. While the Socceroos left it late to qualify for the World Cup, some dominant football powers failed to make it at all. For the first time since 1958, Europeans giants Italy won’t be there. They’ll be watching from afar along with fellow giants the Netherlands.
Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal failed to guide their Chilean side to Russia while the United States failed in qualifying — the first time the Stars and Stripes will miss a World Cup since 1986. We’ve put together a team of players all denied by qualification failure and, on paper, it’s a star-studded fantasy XI that could conceivably contend for the greatest prize in football.
GOALKEEPER: GIANLUIGI BUFFON (ITALY)
Italy’s most capped player couldn’t help guide the Azzurri to Russia after bowing out to Sweden during qualifiers. Buffon won the Jules Rimet trophy back in 2006 in Germany after his side downed Zinedine Zidane’s France in the final. The legend will be sorely missed in Russia as it was probably his last chance to lift the World Cup as Italy captain.
RIGHT BACK: ANTONIO VALENCIA (ECUADOR)
One of the first names on Manchester United’s teamsheet, Valencia couldn’t quite guide Ecuador to Russia. His tough tackling in defence and ability to get beyond the ball in attack with relentless energy will be missed in Russia.
CENTRE-BACK: VIRGIL VAN DIJK (NETHERLANDS)
The star-studded Dutch squad normally comes into the World Cup with high expectation but this time they won’t be there at all. It robs the tournament of one of the nation’s top footballing prospects in big-money Liverpool recruit Virgil van Dijk.
CENTRE-BACK: GIORGIO CHIELLINI (ITALY)
Known for their regimented defensive tactics, the Italians always do well in major competitions, especially with players like Giorgio Chiellini mopping up at the back. Along with his ability to get forward and find the back of the net, Chiellini’s tough tackling attitude will be missed in Russia.
LEFT BACK: DAVID ALABA (AUSTRIA)
Bayern Munich’s ever-consistent left back won’t be making his World Cup debut any time soon after Austria failed to qualify yet again. Unfortunately for fans, David Alaba’s wonder left peg won’t be seen in Russia.
MIDFIELD: MARCO VERRATTI (ITALY)
Verratti has been pulling strings at PSG for a while now and is a big name that won’t feature in Russia. Italy’s strong spine through the middle was regularly orchestrated by the talented 25-year-old.
MIDFIELD: ARTURO VIDAL (CHILE)
Bayern Munich’s Vidal has been bossing the midfield in the Bundesliga this season, helping them win their sixth successive league title. The box-to-box Chilean will be missed by fans in Russia.
RIGHT WING: ARJEN ROBBEN (NETHERLANDS)
The Dutch wizard has been embarrassing fullbacks for years now. Robben lit up the show at the World Cup in Brazil four years ago, leading Holland to a third-place finish, but will be absent from this years tournament.
Retiring from international football after his team’s unsuccessful qualifying campaign, the flying Dutchman would have captained his side in Russia.
LEFT WING: GARETH BALE (WALES)
Blistering pace and a high work rate saw Gareth Bale lead Wales on a terrific run at the European Championships in 2016. The Real Madrid star lead from the front for Wales during the Euros, with many expecting them to qualify comfortably for the World Cup. But it wasn’t to be, and Bale’s world class talent won’t be on show.
ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ALEXIS SANCHEZ (CHILE)
His move to Manchester United from Arsenal was met with some indifferent form and it seemed to carried through to his national team duties with Chile.
STRIKER: PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (GABON)
Aubameyang had started hitting his straps in England after the big-money move to Arsenal. But Gabon’s failure to qualify for a first World Cup for a means he won’t get to build on it in Russia.