While most of world football's brightest stars will converge on South America this summer, some worthy individuals will miss out on an opportunity to represent their country on the planet's biggest stage. One of them just scored the game winning goal in club football's most prestigious championship.
Gareth Bale, despite his best efforts, was unable to push Wales through qualification to Brazil. The left-footed playmaker scored four goals in just seven appearances during the qualifying campaign but losses to Serbia, Croatia and Belgium—among others—made success always look unlikely.
And while Bale might be disappointed that he cannot display his skills in the grandest of settings, his absence this summer will be thoroughly enjoyed come next season.
While his teammates and opponents sweat away in the Brazilian sun for a few weeks, Bale will get to enjoy some valuable rest. The Welsh star enjoyed a tremendous first season with Real Madrid, but it got off to a rocky start.
The midfielder was rarely in the first XI after arriving at the Bernabeu. Despite capturing a world record transfer fee, muscle problems plagued Bale, casting an exaggerated shadow on his performances for his new club.
Following a relatively slow start, Bale stormed into the second half of the year. He began to feel comfortable in La Liga and found a regular place in the starting lineup. From there, he thrived.
Bale managed to record 15 goals and 12 assists in league play. That tally put him in the top 10 in scoring and the top five in assists in La Liga. A remarkable feat made even more impressive considering his health was spotty for decent portions of the campaign, limiting him to 27 appearances.
A summer free from footballing commitments will do wonders for the Welshman. Once he was healthy, Bale was easily one of the best attackers in the Spanish top flight. Finally acclimated to the style of play and the habits of his teammates, we can expect this coming season to be even stronger.
That is precisely why missing this World Cup will be a blessing in disguise for Bale and Los Blancos. The time off will allow his tricky muscle injuries to fully recover rather than managing them through a grueling tournament.
Bale is a player that relies heavily on his otherworldly athleticism. His speed is his best asset, and when put to good use, it can have devastating effects for the opposition. Just ask Marc Bartra.
Because of this, however, Bale's performances are heavily contingent on his ability to stay fit. His touch and vision are improving, but it is his ability to carry the ball and shoot that separate him from the pack. He was second on the team in dribbles per game with 2.1 and second in shots with 3.3, via WhoScored.com.
With a slew of players arriving at training camp weary and drained, Bale should be fresh. Madrid stumbled repeatedly in La Liga, eventually putting themselves out of the title race. With Bale having his way with the opposition's defense, they should enjoy a strong start to the season while allowing Ronaldo and others to recuperate.
While Bale's presence in Brazil will be sorely missed—especially by England—it will come as a relief for Carlo Ancelotti and Madridistas everywhere. For the moment, Ronaldo is the best player in the world, but if Madrid want to reclaim La Liga or defend their European crown, they will need a healthy Bale to do it.