Andrea Pirlo, Xavi and 35 Stars Who Played Their Last World Cup in Brazil 2014
The culmination of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has brought us memories, moments of magic and—for Germany fans at least—great cause for celebration, but it also leaves fans and onlookers alike with something of a sense of loss.
Firstly, the knowledge that we won't experience the likes again—the atmosphere, the gatherings of thousands of supporters from all nations, the relentless game after game non-stop feast of action—for another four years.
But also because the natural course of time dictates that for some, for too many in fact, this was their last chance to perform on the biggest stage. For Italy's Andrea Pirlo, for Spain's Xavi Hernandez and for plenty more besides, Brazil 2014 was to be their last World Cup.
Here's our rundown of 35 of the biggest names in international football who won't be seen, and could well be missed, once Russia 2018 rolls around.
Dani Alves and Maicon, BRA
Brazil might have quite the change around in their side following the manner of their exit, and two defenders who won't be around for the next World Cup are right-backs Maicon and Dani Alves.
Quite aside from the competition they'll face for the position, both are already past their peak and will be 36 and 35 respectively when Russia 2018 rolls around.
Having both accumulated more than 70 caps for the national team, they've been excellent servants, but neither impressed at the finals, and the regeneration of the Selecao will start from the back.
Rafael Marquez, MEX
Rafael Marquez, your time is finally up.
The legendary Mexican defender captained his side at four World Cups, even managing to score in Brazil at the age of 35.
With well over a century of caps to his name, he'll be remembered as perhaps Mexico's finest ever player, but his World Cup days are surely over now.
Darijo Srna, CRO
Croatia right-back Darijo Srna has just turned 32 recently, meaning he has participated at his last finals, barring an unlikely turn of events.
With over a century of caps, and as one of Croatia's top scorers in history, he's another who has more than done his time for his country and came out of the 2014 tournament with plenty of credit.
Samuel Eto'o, CAM
One of the biggest all-time names in African football, Samuel Eto'o has captained Cameroon and helped the national side in all manner of ways down the years.
With 56 goals, he is comfortably their top scorer of all time and will remain so for many years yet.
He'll be 37 next tournament, though, and even his longevity won't stretch that far.
Dirk Kuyt, NED
Netherlands have a host of players who could still feature at the next World Cup, with the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Nigel de Jong all pushing 33-34 years of age at that time, but they are certainly borderline cases.
One who will be missing for sure, though, is indefatigable midfielder Dirk Kuyt, who passed the century mark of international caps during the World Cup and continued to show his worth at 33 years of age.
He'll be a tough act to follow for his professionalism, endurance, versatility and importance to the group.
Xavi Hernandez, David Villa, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas, ESP
With the reign of Spain coming to an end in international football, so too will their squad require something of a change-around for the next set of qualifying games.
Whether all of them continue in the immediate future is up for debate—but a handful of their legendary World Cup winners will certainly have moved on by the time Russia 2018 is upon us.
Midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso are done, all-time record scorer David Villa has already retired from international football and goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas will be 37 by that time. A true end of an era with the exit of these names.
Tim Cahill, AUS
Australia's new breed of players have gradually taken over from the old guard, with Tim Cahill one of the few still remaining at the 2014 World Cup.
He had a big impact too, scoring twice in two games, but that will be his lot for the finals.
At 34 years of age, he'll now be phased out too, having won over 70 caps for the Aussies and being the country's top scorer.
Mario Yepes and Faryd Mondragon, COL
Caveat: we must presume that the eternal Faryd Mondragon does not decide to continue playing and appearing at a whopping 47 years of age, but we shouldn't put it past him, even though he has now officially retired.
Having appeared at Brazil 2014, he's the oldest player in World Cup history, while Mario Yepes was excellent in defence at 38.
Giorgos Karagounis, GRE
Greece keep getting themselves to finals and somehow having an impact, but they'll be without one of their finest of all time the next time they get to the World Cup.
Midfielder Giorgos Karagounis still showed his importance to the side, despite now being 37 years of age, but even he won't be at a World Cup past 40.
His experience and consistency will be tough to replace, but the Greek side is in need of updating that area of the park regardless, tactically as well as in personnel, perhaps.
Didier Drogba, CIV
Along with Eto'o, Dider Drogba is one of Africa's greatest.
Along with Eto'o, Drogba featured at his final World Cup at Brazil 2014 too; he's similarly the all-time top scorer for his nation but will be 40 at the next finals and did not always start for Ivory Coast this time around.
Drogba will forever be associated with more than football in his homeland, but his time at the World Cup now comes to an end.
Diego Forlan, URU
Diego Forlan made a huge impact at World Cup 2010, though he couldn't quite manage the same at Brazil 2014.
Regardless, he's been one of the major stars of a successful rebirth of Uruguayan football, being their top scorer for a period of time until recently and comfortably surpassing a century of caps.
Now aged 35, he'll not be involved at the next finals, and the nation will hope the likes of Abel Hernandez prove able replacements.
Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, ITA
Italian legends Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo will be two of the highest profile missed names in Russia.
The duo have over 250 caps between them, centurions each, and are the captain and vice captain of Italy respectively. It was an unexpectedly early exit for their nation at Brazil 2014 but, in and out of international football, they'll rightly be regarded as greats of the game.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, ENG
Aged 34 and 36 respectively, both have surpassed the 100-cap mark for England and have contributed enormously down the years to the side, but both have played their last World Cup.
Neither could really achieve the success on the international stage they wanted, but both have been pivotal to the national team through their careers.
Patrice Evra, FRA
France have a pleasingly low-aged squad, but one pivotal name who will likely be ousted and no longer around by the time Russia 2018 comes up is left-back Patrice Evra.
With a couple of very talented players behind him, and having now turned 33 years of age, Evra has likely featured at his last World Cup, having a considerably better personal and team tournament than last time around.
Martin Demichelis and Maxi Rodriguez, ARG
Argentina went all the way to the final, but they couldn't quite take victory in the ground they wanted it most, the Maracana.
While a number of their stars could be borderline, depending on quality younger replacements—Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago, Ezequiel Lavezzi to name a few—two veterans will certainly now be accepting their World Cup dreams are over.
Maxi Rodriguez has long played a big part for the national team, starting in Brazil in midfield, while Martin Demichelis ended up as a key central defender in one of the tightest back lines around.
Joseph Yobo, NGA
Nigeria have a few borderline cases themselves, such as 31-year-old goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, but, given his position and current physical and technical capacity, he is likely to still be around in Russia.
Joseph Yobo, however, will be 37 years of age at the next World Cup and is not displaying Yepes-esque levels of regeneration and longevity, so the 100-cap centre-back has bid farewell to World Cup action.
A pivotal player for years for his nation, Yobo will now watch on as the likes of Kenneth Omeruo take over the duties of main defender for the national team.
Emir Spahic and Zvjezdan Misimovic, BIH
Emir Spahic and Zvjezdan Misimovic might not be the biggest names in World Cup history, but they'll be huge in their own home country.
They are the captain and vice captain, respectively, who managed to guide Bosnia-Herzegovina to their first ever World Cup finals and came close to helping them reach the second round at the first attempt.
Centre-back Spahic in particular had some fine moments, but both are already well past 30 and won't likely see a second World Cup.
Miroslav Klose, GER
Miroslav Klose: not a bad way to bow out.
The 36-year-old scored twice at the 2014 finals, setting a new all-time record for the highest ever goalscorer at the World Cup.
Oh, and he won the trophy, too.
Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, USA
Two of United States' biggest names have played their final World Cup tournament, with goalkeeper Tim Howard and forward and captain Clint Dempsey both into the veteran category.
Dempsey will be 35 for Russia 2018, so he could feasibly play, but isn't likely to be around by that time. Howard, meanwhile, will be pushing 40.
Both have over 100 caps for their national teams and have written themselves into folklore at the 2014 finals; Howard for making the most saves in a single game and Dempsey for his 30-second goal against Ghana.
Helder Postiga, POR
Portugal have long had one particular problem to solve for their national team: a prolific goalscorer at major tournaments.
Helder Postiga was once more present at Brazil 2014 but wasn't the man they turned to for goals when they needed them most.
He'll only be 35 by Russia 2018, but his long international career appears all but over at this stage.
Michael Essien, GHA
Michael Essien has been a big player for Ghana, but is now past his prime and no longer a first-choice starter in midfield.
Injuries, absences and other factors have contributed to him barely surpassing 50 caps for his nation, but he was still a big name from African football in his best years and perhaps could have had a bigger impact at World Cups.
Daniel Van Buyten, BEL
Many of this particular Belgian squad could still be around for Russia 2018, but centre-back Daniel Van Buyten will not be amongst them.
The former Bayern Munich defender has won close to 90 caps for Belgium, but will be 40 years of age by the time of the next World Cup and, in truth, did well to mainly make himself a starter in Brazil.
Sergei Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutski and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, RUS
Russia disappointed in Brazil 2014 and serious improvements will be needed if they are not to be embarrassed in hosting their own finals in four years' time.
The playing staff will need a revamp of sorts, with a number of key faces set to depart the scene between now and then.
Most prominent from the last few years are defenders Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski, while key goalscorer Aleksandr Kerzhakov will no longer be called upon, hitting 35 by Russia 2018. There is much work ahead before then for Fabio Capello—if he is even allowed to continue.
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