Picking a 23-Man Squad of Players Not Selected for the World Cup
Over the past week or so, footballers all over the world have discovered whether or not they'll be representing their nation at this summer's 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Some cold, hard decisions have had to be made, and for every player jumping for joy because they'll be boarding the plane to Russia, there's another who is crestfallen that their chance has gone.
It's that latter group we've focused on here, perusing the 23-man squads and preliminary selections (up until Monday), picking out the best players who won't be heading to the World Cup, and making a 23-man squad out of them.
If a nation has yet to confirm their 23-man squad and continues to operate with a preliminary selection, we have not included any players from that larger group—even if the reality is they are very unlikely to go. Every player on this list has missed either an official cut of 23 or missed the preliminary selection altogether.
Internationally retired players such as Franck Ribery (France) and Iker Casillas (Spain) are not eligible. Players whose nations did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup aren't either, so no Virgil van Dijk (the Netherlands) or Jorginho (Italy). Players who would have gone to the tournament but for injury, like Dani Alves (Brazil), also do not feature.
Ralf Fahrmann (Germany)
Stephane Ruffier (France)
That Fahrmann remains uncapped by his country is a minor tragedy. Yes, Germany have a wealth of options to choose from between the sticks and hardly need him—Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp included—but he's arguably better than these guys and deserves a look-in at some point.
Ruffier's one of the best goalkeepers in Ligue 1 but no longer features for France much, with Didier Deschamps now opting for players such as Benoit Costil and Alphonse Areola to back up Hugo Lloris.
Also included is Neto, whose first season with Valencia has been phenomenal.
Sergi Roberto (Spain)
Nelson Semedo (Portugal)
It's a Barcelona double at right-back. The two who fought it out for a spot in Ernesto Valverde's XI will fight it out here, too.
It was a surprise to see Semedo omitted from Portugal's squad, with Fernando Santos opting to take Leicester City-bound Ricardo Pereira as Cedric Soares' back-up instead. It was not surprising to see Roberto left out of Spain's 23; as good as he is, they have better candidates.
This was one of the strongest position groups, with the likes of Joao Cancelo (Portugal) and Rafinha (Brazil) still left by the wayside. If a starter had to be chosen, Roberto probably holds the edge over Semedo.
Alex Sandro (Brazil)
Marcos Alonso (Spain)
Despite enduring a rough 2017-18 season, Alex Sandro retains his status as one of the best left-backs in the world. Unfortunately for him in the Brazil stakes, Marcelo and Filipe Luis are even better.
Our reserve in this position is Alonso, who missed Spain's cut as Julen Lopetegui handed Nacho Monreal a spot instead. It's no massive surprise; the Chelsea man only has one senior cap and has had little time to demonstrate his worth in a red shirt.
Aymeric Laporte (France)
David Luiz (Brazil)
Marc Bartra (Spain)
Benedikt Howedes (Germany)
Didier Deschamps' refusal to call on Laporte for France frustrates many. Even with Laurent Koscielny missing the World Cup due to a torn Achilles, the Manchester City man's not a factor—Adil Rami was selected instead.
Luiz's last competitive outing for Brazil was back in 2016, and given he'll be 35 by the time World Cup 2022 rolls around, it's looking increasingly likely his last big moment on this particular stage was that horrific 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany.
Benedikt Howedes is one of two German defenders—the other being Shkodran Mustafi—who played a genuine part in winning the World Cup in 2014 but won't attend this one.
Marc Bartra's been superb this year for Real Betis, but Nacho Fernandez holds an innate advantage over him when it comes to picking the squad, as he's team-mates with Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal in Madrid.
Defensive Midfielders/Central Midfielders
Radja Nainggolan (Belgium)
Adrien Rabiot (France)
Javi Martinez (Spain)
The headline name here is Nainggolan, who retired from international duty on Monday having been left out of Belgium's preliminary World Cup squad, per the BBC. We've included him despite our condition on this matter, as he was eligible and hoping to be selected when Belgium manager Roberto Martinez held his press conference.
Joining him is another experienced head in Martinez, who despite being a key man for Bayern Munich this season, isn't needed by Spain, and two relative international novices in Rabiot and Fabinho.
Rabiot has come along nicely this season but isn't one of France manager Didier Deschamps' trusted midfielders, while Fabinho's skill set doesn't seem to interest Brazil manager Tite.
Anthony Martial (France)
Kingsley Coman (France)
Jose Callejon (Spain)
Angel Correa (Argentina)
Martial's lack of game time at Manchester United has cost him dearly. Back at Euro 2016, Deschamps turned to him when in need of a goal off the bench in the final (which they lost to Portugal), but this year he'll have to turn to someone else should the situation arise.
Kingsley Coman also missed the cut, and although some may point to injury as the cause, he played a part in the DFB-Pokal final and would likely be fit enough to carry out his usual cameo role.
Suso and Callejon are seasoned footballers with little-to-no international experience who have been pushed down the pecking order by Spanish megastars. Angel Correa has that shot-in-the-arm type of ability to change games from the bench.
Mauro Icardi (Argentina)
Alvaro Morata (Spain)
Alexandre Lacazette (France)
There's some serious striking talent set to miss out on the World Cup. This selection is so strong that we couldn't even find room for Alejandro Gomez (Argentina) or Wissam Ben Yedder (France).
Icardi is the big storyline. Injuries stopped him from linking up with Argentina often this season, and La Albiceleste includes two of Europe's best forwards in Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain. He has no divine right to a spot, but manager Jorge Sampaoli's side scored so few goals in qualifying (19 goals) without him. Could they have rolled the dice with Icardi?
Morata's and Lacazette's up-and-down maiden seasons in the Premier League can't have helped their claims to be on the plane, and both must become fans for the summer.
The Full Squad
Goalkeepers: Ralf Fahrmann (Germany), Stephane Ruffier (France), Neto (Brazil)
Right-Backs: Nelson Semedo (Portugal), Sergi Roberto (Spain)
Left-Backs: Alex Sandro (Brazil), Marcos Alonso (Spain)
Centre-Backs: Aymeric Laporte (France), David Luiz (Brazil), Marc Bartra (Spain), Benedikt Howedes (Germany)
Central Midfielders: Radja Nainggolan (Belgium), Adrien Rabiot (France), Javi Martinez (Spain), Fabinho (Brazil)
Attacking Midfielders/Wingers: Anthony Martial (France), Kingsley Coman (France), Suso (Spain), Jose Callejon (Spain), Angel Correa (Argentina)
Strikers: Mauro Icardi (Argentina), Alvaro Morata (Spain), Alexandre Lacazette (France)
All statistics via WhoScored.com