There are dozens of top players who won't be making the trip to the World Cup after their respective nations failed to qualify. Here are the best of the bunch.
Much has been made about the nations who didn't qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and for good reason. The list is loaded with international powers and World Cup regulars, and four reigning regional champions–Chile, USA, New Zealand and Cameroon–won't be making the trip to Russia.
The field in Russia boasts plenty of intrigue and star power, and those competing on the grand stage will command the spotlight for the next eight months on the journey to the top prize in the international game. Before that, though, there's still reason to look back at the series of stars who won't be competing at the World Cup due to their nations' inability to get there. There are so many, in fact, that carving out a legitimate, World Cup-like, 23-man roster isn't all that difficult of a task.
Sticking with players who won't be at the World Cup because of a failure to qualify and not because of a current standing with their national team that did qualify and a traditional roster construction, here's a team of star players that you won't be seeing next summer under the bright lights in Russia.
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Jan Oblak (Slovenia), Jasper Cillessen (Netherlands)
It's an absolute shame that Buffon won't be able to exit on his own terms in the World Cup. The 2006 winner is universally adored and revered and was one of the last active holdovers from that Italian title team. It feels like the soccer universe has been cheated some with the last international image of Buffon being him crying tears of sorrow, but storybook endings don't happen for everyone. Presuming this is Buffon's last season as a player, he'll still hope to go out with more silverware at Juventus.
A pair of La Liga netminders round out the group, with Atletico Madrid's Oblak, who supplanted Inter's talented Samir Handanovic as Slovenia's No. 1, and Barcelona backup Cillessen, who, at 28, will be fighting for his place in qualifying for Qatar 2022.
David Alaba (Austria); Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini (Italy); Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria); Antonio Valencia (Ecuador); Virgil Van Dijk (Netherlands)
Just like Buffon, the entire B-B-C back line of Italy that has been so resolute for so long won't be making the journey to Russia, and a true changing of the guard is in store for the Azzurri defense. It's a true end of an era.
With this group, you've got a blend of that experience and players hitting their prime in Alaba and Ghoulam, plus clout in the center and fullbacks who can bomb forward.
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia), Naby Keita (Guinea), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia), Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia & Herzegovina), Christian Pulisic (USA), Thomas Partey (Ghana), Arturo Vidal (Chile), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast)
Pulisic won't get to experience a breakout on the biggest stage possible thanks to the USA's failure, but the 19-year-old is hardly to blame given he carried the Americans at times and provided hope in the fateful finale vs. Trinidad & Tobago. Pulisic will have to wait until 2022 for his first potential taste of a senior World Cup.
This group is a balanced one, blessed with wing play in Pulisic and Zaha, central creators like Hamsik and Mkhitaryan and central muscle in Vidal and Partey. For Keita, at least he did not need the World Cup as a springboard to bigger things, as he's already headed to Liverpool next summer from RB Leipzig.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Gareth Bale (Wales), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Edin Dzeko (Bosnia & Herzegovina), Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
Robben went out with a golazo in his final appearance with the Dutch, and his unstoppable cut-in-from-the-right, shoot-with-the-left move will be missed on the grand stage.
After Wales' run to the Euro 2016 semifinals, a World Cup bid was surely expected to follow, but the Dragons had to cope without Bale in their final qualifiers, and they couldn't quite make it to the playoff stage, falling to Ireland at the last hurdle. That's a killer for the 28-year-old Bale, who could well go his entire international career without playing in a World Cup depending on how the next five years play out.
Elsewhere, Aubameyang and Gabon attributed their failure to some dodgy orange juice, while Bosnia & Herzegovina underachieved considering its wealth of talent, which includes the prolific Dzeko. As for Alexis Sanchez, who has given his all for his country and helped guide it to the last two Copa America titles, not even reaching the World Cup stage is a shocking blow.
On the provisional 40-man roster but not quite making the cut: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy), Stefan de Vrij (Netherlands), Daley Blind (Netherlands), Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Greece), Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Marco Verratti (Italy), Gary Medel (Chile), Charles Aranguiz (Chile), Hakan Calhanoglu (Turkey), Aaron Ramsey (Wales), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Cenk Tosun (Turkey), Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon), Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine), Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro), Andrea Belotti (Italy).