By Abiodun Adewale.
Snubbed, injured, looked down on, dropped or didn’t even qualify; a number of players, not necessarily star players but playmakers would be missing in action as the 2018 FIFA World Cup takes centre stage in Russia.
The race to be in form and stay fit has been on since the qualifiers. In the heat of league actions, commentators kept reminding players why some tackles were avoidable, if only they heard.
After games, players have received good and bad phone calls from their managers just as managers are made to sweat over the availability of some stars. Brazilians have had to sweat over the doubt of Neymar, who is now fit even as Egyptians are praying for Mohammed Salah to be fit in time.
With ten days to go, the deadline for the submission of final squad is upon managers. Although some have made the tough call before their build up games, others, perhaps for the benefit of doubt created suspense by releasing an initial provisional list and then pruned it down after assessment.
The drama is now over and we know who is going to Russia and who is not. Here’s a highlight of players, who by one way or the other missed the plane to the biggest football showpiece in the world.
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Who qualifies and retires? Especially when you’re a forty year old goalkeeper, you just change your gloves and prepare for a farewell on the biggest spectacle.
Arguably one of the best goalkeepers in history, Buffon has already represented Italy at five World Cups, his safe hands lifting one in 2006. But there won’t be any more appearance for him after Italy failed to book a ticket in the play offs. Besides it’s only a matter of time before his son, Gianluigi Donarumma inherit his position between the sticks for the national team.
Jan Oblak (Slovenia)
It’s no big deal actually but Jan Oblak is yet to play at the FIFA World Cup. The last time Slovenia qualified was in 2010 when Samir Handanovic was the first choice.
Rated as the best goalkeeper in the La Liga in the 2017/18 season, Oblak adds to his extraordinary caps but which feather could have been more befitting than a World Cup appearance? Point is, he’s in the form of his life and is missing on the biggest stage of football.
Laurent Koscielny (France)
He was so close! The Arsenal defender was injured in the second leg of the Europa League semi-finals, tearing his Achilles tendon.
His compatriot, Antoine Griezmann, who witnessed the incident first hand showed a face of major concern for Koscielny during the scene.
Marcos Alonso (Spain)
Is the Spanish national team so full of talents that they can afford to drop Alonso? This shouldn’t be, even while he didn’t ply his trade domestically like most of the defenders on the list, he probably should be given a look ahead of Nacho Monreal who also plays in the Premier League.
Talking about Alonso’s consistency at Chelsea is stating the obvious. And if Spain are really flexible tactically, Alonso could have definitely added one more thing to the items on table. No one would be more disappointed than Alonso.
Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
Fabregas has done it all with Spain actually. But for a player that played most of his prime under the shadows of Andres Iniesta and Xavi, he deserves one last call – his form at Chelsea wasn’t bad after all. His long range passing and excellent vision was still with him and he remains the undisputed king of assist.
Mauro Icardi (Argentina)
This snub or rather exclusion makes one scream. The Inter Milan man looked set for a fest of life in Russia with his red hot form at club level. But hell NO, Jorge Sampaoli had other options. Icardi finished joint top scorer in the Seria A with 29 goals as he helped the Nerazzurris secure a Champions League spot.
Why Icardi missed isn’t about Argentina’s depth, Sampaoli could still accommodate him without any headache. It’s a question of which Argentine striker on the plane is more deserving than him?
Leroy Sane (Germany)
2014 World Cup winner, Mario Gotze was the initial talk about in Germany, but on deadline day, Joachim Loew dropped the bombshell. Booom! Leroy Sane is gone, despite his stellar performance in the 2017/18 season. Sane’s 14 goals and 19 assists across all competition for City wasn’t enough.
It must have been a close call for Loew but it’s insane.
Nicklas Bendtner (Denmark)
This is the unpopular miss. With 30 goals in 79 appearances, no current member of the Denmark team has more international career goals for Denmark than Bendtner, but ironically and quite unsurprising though, the Prince of Denmark won’t be going with the Danish team even if he could afford to charter a jet.
It’s not what you think actually – Bendtner won’t be in Russia because of an injury. His absence has nothing to do with form. As a matter of fact, he played a key role in securing a World Cup spot for Denmark.
Moses Simon (Nigeria)
Moses Simon is quite unlucky. This is one man who was consistent for Nigeria through the qualifiers, but just days to the World Cup, he sustained an injury in the Super Eagles camp and was ruled out for four weeks.
What do you want to do with Moses Simon when you have Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa? But not everyone can see what Gernot Rohr sees in the winger. The only visible thing is the reluctance of the tactician to drop him when he pruned down his 30 man list to 25 before jetting out of Nigeria. After subjecting his fate to further scans in London, Rohr had to give up on the player.
Moses Simon will definitely be missed by Nigeria.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
Despite scoring seven goals in the qualifiers, Alexis Sanchez failed to carry Chile to Russia. More shockingly rude is the fact they lost the chance to play in the play offs on the final day, as Peru took advantage. You wish players could switch national team allegiance too?
Chile in the last three years have been relatively successful winning back-to-back Copa America titles and playing in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Alexis Sanchez had a hot and cold season for Arsenal and Manchester United but his spirited football will be longed for in Russia.
Arturo Vidal (Chile)
Like his compatriot, Vidal is one player you’d wish could go ahead to play for another country. Chile’s miss looks like the Bayern Munich’s miss. It’s a heartbreak.
Anthony Martial (France)
What a player he is but sadly, he didn’t do enough to convince Didier Deschamps. The French coach went ahead with his 23-man squad, and could only afford to place the former Monaco starlet on the stand by list.
Opinions are divided over Martial’s exclusion but there’s no point in calling out a manager.
Radja Niangolan (Belgium)
Call this the ‘Guinness Book of Record’ snub and Naingolan will agree with you. Roberto Martinez would be forced into retirement too if he was in the shoes of Niangolan. The 30 year old is one of the best midfielders the game has. How he’s not fancied by the coach is beyond anyone.
Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain (England)
Back in September 2017, the idea of Oxlade Chamberlain going to the World Cup was inconceivable. Chamberlain moved to Liverpool from Arsenal in search of a suitable role, he got it but it wasn’t an instant hit.
Form they say is temporary, even if he’s not first class, Ox did put his woes behind him at Liverpool and made an eye catching progress under the heavy metal football of Jurgen Klopp. He became more of a regular face at anfield after Coutinho’s move to Barcelona but alas, his season ended with a horrible knee injury in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal clash against AS Roma.
Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)
The midfielder of Qatar’s Al Dhail suffered a torn cruciate ligament in his knee in early April.
Although he is not a well-known player in Europe, he is the star of Tunisia and the team will have to fight without his services in Russia.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
There couldn’t be any better player to wrap up this long list. The controversial player from Sweden will not feature in the World Cup, as the Swedish FA confirmed his absence after rumours of a return surfaced.
His high-profile move to Los Angeles Galaxy, after a weak season between injuries and other reasons with Manchester United, leaves him off the list for Russia 2018.
It’s hard to imagine what goes through the head of managers when they make their selection but it’s fair enough to say these array of stars deserve a separate tournament. The list could well be expanded without limit.