The 2018 World Cup is finally here, but without traditional soccer superpowers like Italy and the Netherlands qualifying this year, we’ll miss out some of the world’s best players including Gianluigi Buffon, Arjen Robben, and Alexis Sanchez.
Aside from that, there are more big names absent from Russia, despite their countries qualifying. We take a look at the players who are healthy and available to play, but were snubbed by the 32 teams at the tournament that kicks off June 14. Quartz’s fantasy 23-man squad—including the starting 11—would have a good chance to crush the competition.
Goalkeeper: Bernd Leno (Germany)
The Bayer Leverkusen No. 1 made a string of impressive performances this past season, and is now a top target for Arsenal during the summer transfer window. But due to Manuel Neuer’s timely recovery from a foot injury, the 26-year-old didn’t earn a place with the defending champion.
Defender: Marcos Alonso (Spain)
The Chelsea left back scored eight goals, including some superb free kicks, last season, but still failed to win former Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui’s favor. (News just came in that Spain sacked Lopetegui after he was named Real Madrid’s new manager to start work after the Russia tournament.) As an all-rounder, Alonso is arguably more suitable for Antonio Conte and his 3-5-2 formation, but less so to Lopetegui, who prefers to play with four defenders.
Defender: David Luiz (Brazil)
Another Chelsea star missing out on a ticket to Russia, but perhaps less surprisingly, given that the Brazilian has struggled to cement his place in both the Blues and his national team. The disgraceful 1-7 defeat to Germany in Belo Horizonte four years ago may still haunt Luiz, but he won’t have a chance to prove himself again.
Defender: Javi Martinez (Spain)
The Bayern Munich ace hasn’t played a single match under Lopetegui since the manager took over as Spain’s head coach position in 2016. Not everyone agrees with that decision—his supporters include Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez.
Defender: Sergi Roberto (Spain)
Yet another controversial move by Lopetegui. The 26-year-old full-back proved himself an asset to Barcelona in the past few seasons, and is perhaps best remembered by fans for his last-minute goal that capped off an incredible comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-final of 2016-17 Champions League.
Midfield: Leroy Sane (Germany)
With 14 goals, 19 assists, two championship titles, and the Premier league’s young player of the year award, Sane, 22, is the most unlikely player to be left out of his national squad for Russia. German boss Joachim Low explained that he opted for Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt over Sane on a “very close decision.” It’s true that the Manchester City winger failed to replicate his tremendous club performance for Germany this past season, but Low’s decision still baffles fans and pro players alike.
Midfield: Adrien Rabiot (France)
The 23-year-old PSG star didn’t make it in to France boss Didier Deschamps’s final 23-man list due to his lukewarm national-team performance. In response, Rabiot asked to be taken off France’s standby list in case of injury. With some of the world’s best midfielders—such as Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante—in the squad, Deschamp probably won’t miss him very much.
Midfield: Radja Nainggolan (Belgium)
The box-to-box Belgian hard-man is one of the definitive players for Roma, which stunned the world by knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League last season. But the 30-year-old’s bad habits—including chain smoking—have long annoyed Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, who left him out of the World Cup citing tactical reasons. Nainggolan later announced his retirement from international soccer.
Forward: Anthony Martial (France)
The 22-year-old striker’s omission is another sign of France’s strength in depth—especially for attacking talents. After all, while Martial struggled to gain more game time at Manchester United, the even younger Kylian Mbappé was sensational with PSG throughout last season.
Forward: Mauro Icardi (Argentina)
Despite netting 29 goals for Inter Milan this past season, 25-year-old Icardi didn’t impress Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli enough to get in the team. Sampaoli opted for local player Cristian Pavon over the joint-leading scorer in Italy. However, Argentina is never short of attacking talents, and in Sampaoli’s own words, it’ll be Lionel Messi who “can carry the team on his shoulders.”
Forward: Karim Benzema (France)
Benzema was involved with 24 goals for Real Madrid last season, and scored one of the three goals that helped the Spanish giant win its Champions League title for the third year in a row. But the 30-year-old has not been selected to play for France for about two and a half years, and earlier complained that he would never be picked as long as Deschamps remains French boss.
Goalkeepers: Neto (Brazil), Joe Hart (England)
Defenders: Alex Sandro (Brazil), Hector Bellerin (Spain), Aymeric Laporte (France), Chris Smalling (England)
Midfields: Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Jack Wilshere (England), Juan Mata (Spain), Mario Gotze (Germany)
Forwards: Alexandre Lacazette (France), Alvaro Morata (Spain)
Dan Kopf and Yomi Kazeem contributed to this post.
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