World Cup 2018: Missing XI – The top players who weren’t selected for the tournament

With the news that Leroy Sané has been dropped from Germany's World Cup squad, we put together a team of players who won't be representing their nations this summer


Reuters/LISI NIESNER

With international managers around the world making their final preparations, World Cup squads are being trimmed to their final 23 members.

Naturally, some big names have been left disappointed. Zlatan Ibrahimović is one of them, but a 36-year-old lion with five MLS goals to his name wouldn’t have a great case for inclusion anyway.

Regardless, if the eleven players we have chosen were to follow in the footsteps of the Independent Olympians and band together under a new flag, we reckon they’d be in with a shout of a semi-final appearance, if not more. 

Perhaps that’s a bit far. But they’d make for a fun team on FIFA 18, at the very least…

Goalkeeper and defence:

Bernd Leno

The primary victim of Manuel Neuer’s timely return to fitness, Bayer Leverkusen’s Leno has just six international caps to his name despite being in the prime of his career at 26. 

A Bundesliga and Champions League starter since his teens, Leno has largely been forced to watch his country’s latest golden generation from the sidelines, with Marc-André ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp making the cut for Die Mannschaft this time around.

Fabinho

The £40million man may be expected to fill in at right-back for Liverpool next season, but he won’t be doing it for Brazil this summer. It doesn’t come as a huge surprise, with the 24-year-old having failed to make an international appearance in two years despite consistently impressing with club side Monaco.

Reuters/JEAN-PIERRE AMET

Dani Alves won’t be there for the Seleção through injury, so it seems that Manchester City’s Danilo will be the man to start on the right after a season spent battling with Fabian Delph for City’s unconventional left-back role.

Marc Bartra

There will come a day when Spain have to move on from their centre back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué, but that day doesn’t look to be coming this summer. Despite impressing since his mid-season return to Spain, Real Betis’ Bartra hasn’t made the cut for Julen Lopetegui.

Bartra recovered after being injured in the bomb attack on the Borussia Dortmund team bus in 2017 and had looked a dependable figure as Betis raced to a sixth-place finish, but the former Barcelona man will be watching from home.

James Tarkowski

Perhaps not the biggest name on the list, but Burnley’s adventure to Europe this season had led to something of a clamour for Tarkowski to be on the plane as part of Gareth Southgate’s youthful England squad.

Reuters/MATTHEW CHILDS

With Southgate looking to play three centre backs, Tarkowski will be disappointed not to have been included as an option but with 50 Premier League appearances now under his belt, the 25-year-old should continue to improve and could be in with a shout for a place at Euro 2020.

Marcos Alonso

Despite being named in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year, Chelsea’s silky wing-back joins Bartra in missing out on a Spain squad clearly bristling with talent. 

Jordi Alba and Nacho Monreal have been chosen in his position while his Chelsea teammate César Azpilicueta will also be making the trip to Russia as Spain look to make amends for their shocking performance at Brazil 2014.

Midfield:

Cesc Fàbregas

Are you sensing a theme with the Spanish team yet? A frightening amount of depth in the 2010 champions’ squad means that one of the Premier League’s creators-in-chief missed out on the call to action, and few in the country would have batted an eyelid.

Reuters/ANDREW COULDRIDGE

They won’t be short in midfield. Fàbregas might not be there, but they can still call on the services of Iniesta, Thiago, Isco, David Silva, Busquets, Koke, and Saúl. Expect them to keep possession pretty well.

Mario Götze

”Here’s Mario Götze… what a goal! What a goal to win a World Cup!”

Such was the cry from Clive Tyldesley four years ago in Rio de Janeiro, but Germany’s boy wonder has experienced something of a fall from grace since then, failing to make even the provisional squad this time around. 

After recovering from a rare disease known as myopathy, Götze has made only 34 league appearances in the last two seasons since returning to Borussia Dortmund. At 26, he should be in his prime – will the forever-baby-faced 30-year-old be back in the frame by 2022?

Radja Nainggolan

Roberto Martinez’s decision to exclude Nainggolan from his squad ahead of the World Cup prompted the Roma midfielder to retire from international duty altogether, which is a genuine shame for the neutrals.

Reuters/ALESSANDRO BIANCHI

Belgium’s star-studded squad shouldn’t fail to entertain during the tournament, but Nainggolan is a hugely compelling character to watch. Superb for Roma this season and excellent in both legs against Liverpool despite their Champions League semi-final defeat, his stunning late drive into the bottom corner almost prompted a jaw-dropping comeback.

Forwards:

Leroy Sané

As with the Spanish omissions, the decision to cut Sané from the Germany squad this summer says as much about their own strength in depth as it does the player’s season.

Reuters/PHIL NOBLE

Sané was imperious for Manchester City and was fully expected to make a big impact at his first World Cup tournament. With the 22-year-old missing, Marco Reus looks likely to start on the left having made his first international appearance in two years in a friendly defeat to Austria last week.

Mauro Icardi

29 Serie A goals for Inter Milan this season wasn’t enough for Icardi to earn a spot in an Argentina side clearly being put together to try to bring the best out of the world’s best player, Lionel Messi.

With Paulo Dybala, Sergio Agüero, and Gonzalo Higuaín still there to supplement Messi, Jorge Sampaoli’s team hardly looks light in attack, but the decision to leave out a player of Icardi’s indisputable goal-scoring prowess is a brave one nonetheless.

Anthony Martial

A victim of José Mourinho’s restrictive tactics, or simply one of the unlucky players not to make the cut in a France squad packed with attacking talent?

The answer is probably a mixture of both. Any team which can afford to leave Dimitri Payet at home is clearly one to be feared, but it is not difficult to imagine that Martial would have had a better case to be included had he been playing under a more attack-minded manager. Will this be the kick up the backside which encourages Martial to leave Old Trafford?

Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sam France

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Sam is a football writer at RealSport, a Premier League-accredited journalist, and a recent history graduate from the University of Liverpool.

Former Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Features Editor at VAVEL UK, his work can be found on a number of sites including These Football Times, In Bed With Maradona, and Breaking The Lines.

Follow him on Twitter, @sjakef.

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