The unlucky XI: A team of players not to make this year’s World Cup


Football fans across the world are salivating at the prospect of a World Cup on the horizon as a month-and-a-bit showcase of the very best of the beautiful game awaits (hopefully). Yet some people might well find the spectacle tough to watch – namely the players who narrowly missed out on making their nation’s squad for the tournament in Russia.

So, who might be sitting at home and secretly hoping that their manager regrets their absence? Here’s our unlucky XI of players missing out from this summer’s World Cup (formation 3-4-3):

Joe Hart

Despite having 75 caps to his name and being England’s first choice keeper at their last three tournaments, Joe Hart failed to make Gareth Southgate’s squad for Russia. The 31-year-old’s form in recent years has dipped, but many fancied him to make the plane, if only to pass on his experience to the likes of Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland.

Marcos Alonso

The Spaniard has been one of Chelsea’s most consistent performers under Antonio Conte – one of few players not to suffer the post-title hangover befalling Stamford Bridge. Still, his efforts seem underappreciated in his homeland.

Hector Bellerin

Alonso isn’t the only London-based Spanish defender to miss the cut. Barcelona-born Bellerin has only ever earned a meagre three Spanish caps, although there’s surely time for the talented 23-year-old to feature in future tournaments.

Chris Smalling

There’s a case to be made that the Manchester United man should be ahead of Phil Jones and Harry Maguire in the pecking order in England’s defence – and the inclusion of Trent Alexander-Arnold is also a little puzzling given that Gareth Southgate has three men capable of playing in the right back/right wing back position at his disposal. Having played in Brazil in 2014 and in the Euros in France, Smalling must sit this tournament out.

Radja Nainggolan

If Roberto Martinez is to be believed, Radja Nainggolan is missing from his Belgium squad because his best position is as a number ten and Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens are ahead of him for that berth. We’ll never know whether that’s the full reason or Nainggolan and Martinez simply don’t get on. Either way, the talented Roma man won’t be in Russia.

Dimitri Payet

It was bad enough for Dimitri Payet to pick up an injury in the Europa League final for Marseille. It probably wasn’t much fun seeing his team mates lose 3-0 to Atletico Madrid either. But then, a day later, to lose out on a place in the France squad put the finishing touches on a terrible few days. Didier Deschamps suggested that the mercurial former West Ham star would otherwise have been a contender for a very strong France squad.

Cesc Fabregas

It was Fabregas’ pass that set Andres Iniesta through to score the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final – a clear highlight among his 110 Spain caps. However, there’s no chance of the Chelsea man repeating the feat this time around. Despite a solid season for Chelsea, Fabregas failed to earn a spot in Julen Lopetegui’s squad. To be fair, David Silva, Isco, Koke, Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Saul Niguez and Andres Iniesta is surely the finest array of midfielders at the tournament – and a key reason why they’re featuring prominently in betting on the World Cup with William Hill, 888 Sport, Bet Fred et al. Cesc is just unlucky to be born in a country with such an embarrassment of midfield riches.

Emre Can

Most managers would love a player like Emre Can in their squad. He can play almost anywhere in the defence and midfield, allowing bosses to cover several positions with one pick and be flexible with their formations within games. The only trouble for Juventus-bound Can is that Joachim Low isn’t ‘most managers’ and his German squad is packed with tactically flexible players (the German team even lists its midfielders and attackers together such is the fluid nature of their player definitions).

Leroy Sane

Germany’s strength in depth hasn’t just affected Emre Can’s chances. Leroy Sane’s sensational form in Pep Guardiola’s record breaking Manchester City side wasn’t enough to make the cut either. The PFA young player of the year would surely have made the vast majority of the squads in Russia but missed out to Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt.

Mauro Icardi

Icardi has just enjoyed another highly successful season with Inter Milan – and finished joint top scorer in Serie A with 29 goals. On that form, he ought to be the sort of player being tipped for the World Cup golden boot and yet instead he’ll be watching from home – with Messi, Higuain and Aguero all ahead of him in Jorge Sampaoli’s thoughts.

Karim Benzema

Most of Real Madrid’s squad go into the tournament buoyed by a third straight Champions League win. Not Karim Benzema, however. The striker has become something of a forgotten man on the international scene after a series of disputes with the French FA and boss Didier Deschamps. While the back story is long and complicated, the fact remains that one of Europe’s most talented centre forwards will be sitting at home this summer.

What do you think? How far could this XI go if it were fielded at the tournament? Is there anyone missing?


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