The 10 best footballers NOT at the World Cup

The 2022 World Cup is just around the corner. Regardless of what you think about the timing of the tournament or the venue’s woes, if you look at it from a purely sporting perspective (as FIFA President Gianni Infantino would like), the next month is likely to bring us the hodgepodge of footballing excellence we’ve come to expect from a expect World Cup.

The world’s biggest and brightest stars will go to work in Qatar. There will be young and hungry players like Serbian Dusan Vlahovic looking to make their mark on the world stage. There will be established superstars like Kylian Mbappe or Neymar who want to cement their legacy. And of course there will be Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two gods of football for the last two decades, who will make one last attempt at immortality.

But for all that immense amount of talent, there’s just as much that won’t make it to the tournament. Whether their country didn’t qualify, they’re not fit, or simply weren’t selected to represent their team on the biggest stage, the group of players who will miss out on the world’s flagship is as good as any group, that you can form from those that will be there.

Who are some of the biggest names to miss? Here is a selection of the best.

We start with the fittest footballer in the world.

Erling Haaland has a goal-scoring pace that few in sport have ever experienced. He has scored a whopping 18 goals in 13 games for Manchester City in the Premier League this year. That’s good for all 57.8 minutes. It’s a staggering pace that puts him within shouting distance of Mohammed Salah’s record of 32 in a 38-game season – and perhaps even Andy Cole’s record of 34 set in a 42-game season. Add five goals in four Champions League games and the stats get even more staggering.

Haaland is simply a force of nature. He can find any space defense gives him and can make head-turning finishes. He has three hat-tricks already this season, including a magical performance in the Manchester Derby where he pinned two assists on his hattie.

The 22-year-old may really be the best player in the world right now – but for all his size, he failed to guide Norway through qualifying. While he finished tied second in his group with five goals, Norway ended up third, three points behind Turkey to claim a place in the playoffs. With that, one of the world’s most magical players will stay home for the tournament, perhaps in hopes that next cycle’s expanded tournament will give him more chances to play on the game’s biggest stage.

Speaking of Salah, it’s been a heartbreaking year for him internationally.

In February, Egypt worked their way up to the final against Senegal via the Africa Cup of Nations. After 120 goalless minutes, the Pharaohs lost to a penalty shoot-out. Salah was probably given the fifth shot but we’ll never know as Senegal lifted the trophy before Egypt’s fifth goalscorer emerged. A month later, a rematch ensued between the two teams in the final round of CAF qualifiers. After a flat-footed draw over two legs, it went back to penalties. This time Salah took his team’s first penalty – and missed. Senegal emerged victorious again.

Salah had a mixed season. He has only scored six goals in the Premier League this year, but he has also scored seven goals in the Champions League group stage. Anyway, this is the last World Cup cycle of his prime and he will be sitting at home, which is a real shame for the neutral who could see the magic the winger can pull off.

Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante were one of the driving forces behind France’s victory at the 2018 World Cup. Pogba scored in the final and was a creative force in midfield throughout the tournament. Brought constant energy and ball-winning skills, Kante freed Pogba to get the job done.

Both midfielders will miss the tournament through injury. Kante has only played two games this year and has not been on the field since August due to a hamstring problem. Pogba ultimately cost himself a shot at a squad spot in his eagerness to come to Qatar to help defend the crown. After his much-hyped return to Juventus as a free agent this summer, he tore his meniscus after the team’s first pre-season competition.

After weighing his options, he decided against immediate surgery and instead attempted a more conservative rehab process. After five weeks, it took a full two training sessions to realize what he could have been told from the start – the rehab wasn’t working. He immediately went under the knife, but it became a race against time to get him fit for the tournament. He was never favored to win this race and it was a foregone conclusion when he sustained a muscle injury during rehab a few weeks ago. Had he had surgery straight away, he would have had a much wider scope for recovery and might have been the only person on this list to be on it due to his own mistakes.

Maignan, on the other hand, spent last season proving himself an integral part of AC Milan as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe scudettowinning squad. But he suffered a calf injury in the last international break and hasn’t played since, missing out on a chance to go to Qatar as Hugo Lloris’ understudy – and likely heir.

The failure of the reigning European champions to qualify for the World Cup for the second year in a row was perhaps the biggest shock of the entire qualifying cycle. It’s leaving many talented players on the couch this winter, but these three stand out the most.

Donnarumma is just a year away from being named Euro 2020 Player of the Tournament. The following year was bumpier. He struggled to find a team that could meet his free hand requirements and eventually had to share time with Keylor Navas at Paris Saint-Germain. He was very shaky at times, no more so than in the Champions League round of 16 when he made a critical error that helped spur Real Madrid’s comeback in the second leg and eliminate PSG. He may not be quite the Buffon level goalkeeper that some make him out to be, he’s as solid a shot stopper as you can find in the world. Just don’t ask him to kick the ball.

His PSG teammate Verratti remains one of the most understated midfielders in the world. He’s been making the Parisians’ midfield tick for years, justifying their decision to buy him straight from Serie B in 2012. It’s unbelievable to imagine that he will only play at one World Cup after playing a key role in midfield in Cesare Prandelli’s 2014 squad in Brazil.

Hopefully the same won’t be said about Chiesa when all is said and done. Even if Italy had qualified, whether or not the Juventus man would have been in the tournament would have been a question. He has just returned from a grueling 10-month rehab after tearing his cruciate ligament in a game against Roma in January. Since his return, he’s only had three sub appearances to get his legs under him. When he’s healthy, however, he’s one of the most dynamic wingers in the game, as he showed in an outstanding performance at Euro. He will be instrumental in Italy’s efforts to finally end the drought at the World Cup in North America four years from now.

We end our list with the only player left out due to the manager’s decision.

Since leaving Chelsea for AC Milan, Tomori has blossomed into one of Serie A’s best defenders. A constant presence for the Rossoneri, He was a big part of Milan’s first title in 10 years.

But his rise doesn’t seem to have fascinated England manager Gareth Southgate, who has declined to call up the 24-year-old not just for the World Cup, but almost never. Tomori has just three caps to his credit, while the likes of Harry Maguire and John Stones continue to control play time at centre-back.

These two have 107 caps combined but whether or not they deserved more is highly debatable. Maguire’s transfer fee – Manchester United paid more for him than Juventus paid Matthijs de Ligt in the same window – has become something of an albatross, while Stones never reached the level he expected when he arrived at Man City and was one of the main culprits in the embarrassing England 4-0 home defeat by Hungary in the UEFA Nations League this summer.

And yet, in choosing his side, Southgate insisted England’s younger centre-backs “haven’t done enough to oust the more experienced”.

That explanation ignores Tomori’s past three seasons, not to mention the extreme failings of the defenders he’s picked. If England fail to get a similarly deep run from their EURO runners-up finish at this World Cup, that defense will be one of the main reasons – and Tomori could have helped them a lot.

For many players, the idea of ​​getting injured in the last game or two before the World Cup break was the nightmare scenario. Unfortunately for Sadio Mane, that nightmare has become a reality.

Mane had to miss FC Bayern Munich’s win against Werder Bremen on November 8 with a leg injury. He was included in Senegal’s original squad nonetheless, and Senegal initially indicated that their starman would miss the “first games” of the tournament. But further scans have now completely eliminated him from the tournament.

It’s a hard blow for Mane, who was instrumental in last year’s reigning African champions. Earlier this year he scored the winning penalty in both of Senegal’s shoot-outs against Egypt, first winning AFCON and then sending his country to the World Cup. After winning everything at Liverpool, he joined Bayern this year, scoring nine goals and four assists in 20 games between the Bundesliga and Champions League.

Without him, Senegal’s attack takes a huge step backwards and the world is missing out on seeing one of the best players in Africa – and the world – on the biggest stage.


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