Ranking the Top 20 Players Who Won't Be at the World Cup

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 12, 2017

Arjen Robben of Holland during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying match between The Netherlands and Sweden at the Amsterdam Arena on October 10, 2017 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

The 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign has not yet reached its conclusion, but we are close to finding out the identities of all 32 nations that will contest for sport's biggest prize in Russia next summer.

Twenty-three teams have sealed their passage, and the final nine spots will be decided in November. While that means we must wait until we know the full platter of participants, we do have a pretty long list of nations definitely not going.

We've perused that list of unfortunate countries and picked out the 20 best players you won't be seeing sparkle in Russia come June. Any player who is still involved in the playoffs or still has a shot at making it via a group game is not eligible.

20. Hakan Calhanoglu, Turkey

Turkey were given a tough group to deal with, and their failure to emerge from it means Hakan Calhanogluone of the finest set-piece takers in world footballwill be relaxing at home this summer, not participating at the World Cup.

Turkey's Hakan Calhanoglu (L) reacts during the World Cup 2018 football qualification match between Turkey and Ukraine on October 6, 2016 at Konya arena stadium in Konya.  / AFP / STRINGER        (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
STRINGER/Getty Images


19. Riyad Mahrez, Algeria

Shockingly, Algeria have accrued just one point from five qualifying games, meaning the Desert Foxes have never been in contention to reach Russia. It also means there's no chance to build on 2014's successes and no chance for Riyad Mahrez to put himself in that shop window.


18. Georginio Wijnaldum, Netherlands

Georginio Wijnaldum will never be the star on any team he plays on, but a guy such as the Liverpool manwho works incredibly hard, has a habit of showing up in big games and stands incredibly versatilecan quickly become a key man at a short-term tournament.


17. Stefan de Vrij, Netherlands

The 2014 World Cup kickstarted Stefan de Vrij's career, as his magnificent performances for the Netherlands caught Lazio's attention, allowing him to hop on up the ladder. He's developed into a brilliant player whose quality will be missed next summer.


16. Christian Pulisic, USA

The United States' remarkable failure to qualify for World Cup 2018 robs us of the chance to watch Christian Pulisic make his tournament bow and denies him the chance to make an important step in his maturation.

COUVA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - OCTOBER 10: Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team reacts to the referee's call during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Couva, T
Ashley Allen/Getty Images

Given he's developed into a rather special player, taking on important roles for both his nation and Borussia Dortmund, that's a real shame.

 15. Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine

Pulisic's new team-mate and wing-mate, Andriy Yarmolenko, will also miss next summer's showpiece event, after Ukraine lost 2-0 to Croatia in their final group game and surrendered a playoff spot in the process.


14. Antonio Valencia, Ecuador

Ecuador have developed into a handy team and have impressed in recent Copa Americas, so to see them fall well short of qualification for the World Cup—thanks to a late nose-dive in form—was a real shock.

Even captain Antonio Valencia, who is still at the top of his game for Manchester United, couldn't shake them out of their funk.


13. Virgil van Dijk, Netherlands

The eight months of 2017 that Virgil van Dijk has spent injured have hurt the Netherlands. The two losses sustained during the time he's been injured—one of which was to Bulgaria—have essentially cost them a spot at the finals.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 10: Virgil Van Dijk of Netherlands and Marcus Berg of Sweden in action during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Netherlands and Sweden at the Amsterdam Arena  on October 10, 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The Dutch have big issues to sort out and Van Dijk's absence during that stretch is not the sole reason the campaign fell apart. However, even in their unsteady state, having a player of his quality at the back could have been the difference between being eliminated and pipping Sweden to the playoffs.


12. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Armenia

Henrikh Mkhitaryan was always destined for this list as Armenia simply do not have the quality to compete over a long span in the UEFA zone—particularly when they land Poland, Denmark, Montenegro and Romania in their group.


11. Naby Keita, Guinea

There will be no sneak peak of new signing Naby Keita at the World Cup for Liverpool fans. Guinea have been eliminated from contention with a spare game, managing just three points from five outings, and that means the RB Leipzig man gets the summer off.

Guinea National football team players Naby Deco Keita (R) and Alkhaly Bangoura celebrates their goal during the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifyer football match between Ivory Coast and Guinea at the stade de la paix in Bouake on June 10, 2017.  / AFP

The central midfielder has top-scored for his country in those five matches, netting twice, but he is battling impossible conditions as Guinea lack stars in most areas. He's a complete, well-rounded presence in the centre, but he can only do so much.

 10. Edin Dzeko, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Bosnia's Edin Dzeko hits the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2018 Europe qualification football match between Estonia and Bosnia in Tallinn, Estonia on October 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / RAIGO PAJULA        (Photo credit should read RAIGO PAJULA/AFP/Getty Ima

Edin Dzeko has spent the last year-and-a-half scoring at will for AS Roma, but he's been unable to transfer that to the international stage for Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Five goals from 10 games in Group H seems alright on paper, but when you compare it to group-mate Romelu Lukaku's 11, it becomes clear how far short he ended up.


9. David Alaba, Austria

Austria's defender David Alaba lies injured on the pitch during the Group D FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification match between Austria and Georgia at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna on September 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / APA / GEORG HOCHMUTH / Austria OUT

Austria's propensity to disappoint and underwhelm seemingly knows no bounds. At no point were they in contention to qualify from Group D despite a late run that took them to a more acceptable points tally.

After failing to impress at Euro 2016 under the weight of expectation this won't surprise too many, and it means their stars won't experience a World Cup finals until at least 2022.

Chief among those names is David Alaba. He's not been at his best for a while and that's been problematic for his nation. Perhaps new Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes can restore him to his former glories.


8. Marek Hamsik, Slovakia 

Scotland's midfielder Darren Fletcher (L) passes the ball in front of Slovakia's midfielder Marek Hamsik during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Scotland and Slovakia at Hampden Park in Glasgow on October 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / An

Slovakia finished their qualifying campaign in second place in Group F with a respectable 18 points, but that wasn't enough to secure a playoff spot; they ended up as the weakest second-placed team across all nine groups in the zone, so their journey ends here.

That means no spike-haired Marek Hamsik driving forward from midfield, splitting defences with long through balls and piercing top corners with venomous long-range strikes.

He's long been by far the best player in the Slovakia setup and plays in the ideal position to make the difference for them. This time, they were a point shy.


7. Jan Oblak, Slovenia

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA - OCTOBER 08: Leigh Griffiths (L) of Scotland scores the opening goal near goalkeeper Jan Oblak (R) of Slovenia during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier match between Slovenia and Scotland at stadium Stozice on October 08, 2017 in Ljub
Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

One of Jan Oblak's final acts of this World Cup qualifying process was to chuck the ball carelessly to Kyle Walker deep into added time at Wembley Stadium and watch as his cross was bundled over the line by Harry Kane.

Slovenia only had an outside shot of reaching the play-offs going into the game and a draw wouldn't have got them anywhere, but that's a seriously sour note to end things on.

That act belies what a fantastic goalkeeper the Atletico Madrid man is, and the fact he's not going to be in Russia next year robs the tournament of one of the world's three best goalkeepers.


6. Miralem Pjanic, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Miralem Pjanic of Bosnia and Herzegovinaduring the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying match between Belgium and Bosnie Herzegowina on October 07, 2016 at the Koning Boudewijn stadium in Brussels, Belgium.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

One of the cheat codes available in international football is to have a world-class central midfielder. In fact, it's half the battle, so if you have one you're automatically in a good spot.

But Miralem Pjanic and Bosnia & Herzegovina failed to qualify from a difficult group (including Belgium and Greece) and that means we won't witness the Juventus man's wizardry in Russia.


5. Arturo Vidal, Chile

Chile's Arturo Vidal takes the ball during the 2018 World Cup qualifier football match against Ecuador in Santiago on October 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Martin BERNETTI        (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

One big name was destined to fall in the South American qualifying stage, and it turned out to be Chile.

Missing the World Cup is a horrific reality for the Copa America champions to face up to, and it means we won't get to see their effervescent, exciting play on show next summer.

The centrepiece to that was Arturo Vidal; he was the heartbeat of an aggressive, yet incredibly intelligent, midfield with multiple moving parts.

Over the past 24 hours there's been some confusion as to whether the 30-year-old has retired from international duty, with the latest suggestion being he's still willing to answer the call.

Perhaps that means we will get one last blast of Vidal in 2022.


4. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabon

Gabon's forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts at the end of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group A football match between Cameroon and Gabon at the Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on January 22, 2017. / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS        (Photo

It's hardly a surprise that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang won't be gracing a World Cup next summer, as the African qualifying section is brutal (and a touch unfair, in truth) and Gabon are not one of the four or five powerhouses on the continent.

In fact, their limitations were laid bare on home soil during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, where they failed to clamber out of a group containing Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau.

Aubameyang is an elite striker, but without appropriate service, there's only so much he can do.


3. Arjen Robben, Netherlands

(L-R)  Kai Robben, Arjen Robben of Holland, Luka Robben during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying match between The Netherlands and Sweden at the Amsterdam Arena on October 10, 2017 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

Arjen Robben is still a phenomenal, top-tier player at age 33, but by the time the next World Cup rolls round in 2022, he most certainly won't be.

This means Robben and World Cups are done; what a massive shame he wasn't given the chance for a final flourish in Russia.

That he is still arguably the Netherlands' best player is an indictment on their development of youth. Dutch football hasn't felt this weak in decades, and they're still relying on the older generation to dig them out of the gutter.

Even Robben couldn't save them this time.


2. Gareth Bale, Wales

CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 09: Gareth Bale of Wales watches from the stands during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Wales and Republic of Ireland at Cardiff City Stadium on October 9, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Im
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Gareth Bale could only watch and wince on Monday evening as Wales lost to the Republic of Ireland 1-0 and forfeited their place in the play-offs to them. It was the worst month for the Real Madrid man to pick an injury up in.

This means no potential for a repeat Euro 2016 fairytale in Russia for the Dragons, who have the ideal makeup for tournament football: a stubborn defence, a workmanlike midfield and a world-class difference-maker in Bale up top...plus enough heart for a whole continent, never mind a country.


1. Alexis Sanchez, Chile

Chile's footballer Alexis Sanchez takes part in a training session at the Juan Pinto Duran sports complex in Santiago, on 3 October 2017, ahead of their upcoming World Cup qualifier matches against Ecuador and Brazil.  / AFP PHOTO / Martin BERNETTI

No Arturo Vidal and no Chile also means the World Cup will be missing one of the world's finest attacking stars in Alexis Sanchez.

He used the 2014 edition in Brazil to relaunch his career to an extent, winning the hearts of Arsenal fans and convincing the Gunners to spend what was, at the time, quite a sum of money on him. 

Three-and-a-half years later, he's held in such high esteem that many were shocked he didn't get a Ballon d'Or nomination earlier this week. An exciting watch, a consistent performer and a passionate player when stepping on to the turf in Chile red, he'll be perhaps the biggest miss of all in Russia.



All statistics via FIFA.com


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