World Cup History: 15 Players Who Never Made It To the Finals
With players such as Nani, Ballack and Drogba already missing out on the World Cup, I started thinking about so many others who never appeared at a World Cup finals, despite being legends of the game in their own right. So here is my list of 15 names that by merit of their performances really should have featured at a World Cup.
15. Antonio Cassano
Considered a wonder kid in Italian football, Antonio Cassano never reached the World Cup, as he was left out of Italy's winning 2006 squad, whilst attending the 2004 and 2008 Euro squads, but being dropped from the 2010 World Cup squad again.
Nicknamed Peter Pan, Fantantonio, El Pibe de Bari (a clear reference to Diego Maradona's nickname) and Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia (the jewel of Old Bari), he is known for his short temper, as well as his ability on the pitch and a player of his calibre really should get the chance to feature at the World Cup.
14. Eidur Gudjohnsen
Eidur Gudjohnsen: quite possibly Iceland's most successful footballer of all-time. When you have played over 100 games for Barcelona, you reckon a player of that calibre is up to World Cup standards. Unfortunately, being born as an Icelander, the chances of Eidur reaching a World Cup were always slim.
Instead, he focused on his club career, which has been rather successful so far, with Eidur making a decent name for himself in England, where has represented clubs such as Bolton, Chelsea and Spurs.
13. Ian Rush
Being born in Wales made an international career at the World Cup always a bit of a distant dream for Ian Rush.
A shame really, a striker with a goal scoring record as impressive as Rush should really have had a shot at the highest stage a footballer can reach, the World Cup.
12. Jari Litmanen
English fans will remember him from his unsuccessful spells at Liverpool and Fulham, where he was hindered by handicaps, but around 1995, Finnish-born Jari Litmanen was probably the world's best attacking midfielder.
There was anonymity to his brilliance: Litmanen seldom dribbled or flew in with a tackle or fires home from 30 yards. Typically, he sent a precise ball out to the wing, and then surged stiffly into the box to finish off. Passing and scoring, passing and scoring.
Since Finland never qualified for a World Cup, their long-serving captain never qualified as well, which is a shame.
11. Rob de Wit
I reckon most people will never have heard of this player. Rob de Wit was a Dutch left-winger who represented FC Utrecht and Ajax.
He made his debut for the Dutch national team in a 1985 World Cup qualifier against Austria. Nearly two weeks after his debut, De Wit scored the winning goal against Hungary (0-1 away win), which won the Netherlands a play-off match against Belgium for the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
The Dutch lost out to Belgium and De Wit never played a professional match after that season, as his career came to an abrupt end in 1986, due to a cerebral hemorrhage while on holiday in Spain.
At first, the consequences didn't seem to be all that bad. De Wit's teammates at Ajax sent him a “get well soon” card with the words: "We didn't even know you had brains."
After an unsuccessful treatment in Sweden, it became clear that Rob de Wit would never play professional football again. He sustained two more cerebral hemorrhages later in life: one in 1993 and one in January 2005. He could have well made the 1990 squad but dropped out due to a cruel twist of fate.
10. Abedi Pele
He was named African Footballer of the Year in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Additionally, he was named him as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers in March 2004.
He also won the Champions League with Olympique Marseille, but he never managed to lead Ghana to a World Cup. An attacking midfielder, Abedi Pele became as famous for his sublime dribbling skills as well as a talent for scoring spectacular and often very important goals.
A little side note to end this profile with: Ironically, two of Abedi Pele's sons, Ibrahim and André followed in their father's footsteps and became Internationals for Ghana. Both were selected for the FIFA World Cup 2010.
9. Ryan Giggs
Giggs is the second Welshman to reach this list and probably the most successful player ever to come from Wales. He established himself as a left-winger during the 1990s and continued in this position well into the 2000s, but he has been increasingly used in a deeper playmaking role in his later years.
Giggs holds a host of football records, including that of being the most decorated player in English football history. On 16 May 2009, he became the first footballer to collect 11 top division English league title medals. Giggs was the first player in history to win two consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year awards (1992 and 1993) and is the only player to have played and scored in every single season of the Premier League since its inception.
A prolific left-winger with superb dribbling skills, a player such as Giggs would have made any World Cup squad in the world, but unfortunately, he never got the chance to showcase his talent at a World Cup.
8. Matthew Le Tissier
One of the best footballers of his generation in England, it remains a little bit of a mystery why Le Tissier, never made a World Cup. He certainly had the talent, as he showed with a number of spectacular goals he scored over the years for his beloved Southampton.
The fact that he remained loyal to the Saints could have hampered his international career, but the Southampton fans wouldn’t have minded if he stuck around for his entire career. Le Tissier also holds the record for being the first midfielder to score 100 goals in the Premier League.
7. Duncan Edwards
Although he is primarily remembered as a defensive midfielder, Edwards is said to have been able to operate in any outfield position on the field of play. His versatility was such that on one occasion he started the match playing as an emergency striker in place of one injured player before being switched to central defence in place of another.
His greatest assets were his physical strength and his level of authority on the pitch, which was said to be remarkable for such a young player, and he was particularly noted for his high level of stamina. Stanley Matthews described him as being "like a rock in a raging sea,” and Bobby Moore likened him to the Rock of Gibraltar when defending but also noted that he was "dynamic coming forward.”
Bobby Charlton called him the best player he ever played with. There is very little footage left of Edwards, who was killed in the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, but if he’s a tenth as good as people say, its a massive shame he never made a World Cup.
6. Eric Cantona
A talismanic, almost iconic midfielder to many Man Utd fans, Eric Cantona has always had a troubled relationship with his national team. Though I suppose calling your manager useless sack of shit doesn't generally help to get in the squad, so he missed out on the 1990 World Cup.
France failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, being knocked out in qualifying by Stoichkov's and Kostadinov's Bulgaria and by the time the 1998 World Cup came along, Cantona had retired. Besides, France had a midfield star called Zinedine Zidane, so it remains to be seen if Cantona would have made the squad. Talk about bad luck...
5. Valentino Mazzola
Captain of the legendary Grande Torino side killed in the Superga air disaster, Mazzola is considered one of the best football players of all time and perhaps the first modern all-around footballer, as he was an attacking midfielder who could score, tackle, defend and lead his teammates to victory with his charismatic presence. Like Edwards, another great player who missed out on a World Cup due to fate.
4. Bernd Schuster
Nicknamed the Blond Angel, Schuster ended his own international career at the tender age of 24, after several incidents with the German FA.
He was part of the West German side that won the 1980 UEFA European Football Championship in Italy, appearing in two of Germany's four matches. His performances there helped him earn the Silver Ball Trophy honour as Europe's second best player in 1980 behind Golden Ball winner, and Germany teammate Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Overall Schuster won twenty-two caps for the West German national team.
3. George Weah
Like Litmanen, Rush, Gudjohnsen and Giggs before him, Weah is the most clear-cut case of a very talented player born in a country that is never good enough to compete in the World Cup. Weah is the only African player to ever win World Footballer of the Year. Surely someone who is voted the world's greatest deserves a spot at the World Cup?
2. George Best
In 1968, his annus mirabilis, George Best won the European Cup with Manchester United, and was named the European Footballer of the Year. When fit, he was an automatic choice for the Northern Ireland team, but he was unable to lead them to the World Cup qualification, despite being capped 37 times and scoring nine goals.
1. Alfredo Di Stefano
La Saeta Rubia, the Blonde Arrow, was one of the best players of his generation, worldwide, yet he never competed at a world cup, something we can attribute to the fact that Di Stefano represented three different nations internationally.
Born in Argentina, he played for his native country, but they didn’t play in the 1950 World Cup. He then became a Colombian international, and never made a World Cup. He became a Spanish National in 1956, but the Spanish didn’t qualify for the 1958 World Cup. Finally he led them to the 1962 Finals, but he got injured before the tournament and couldn’t play.