Star names such as Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi could all end up watching the tournament at home.
Argentina need a win against Ecuador to guarantee a play off place, whilst Wales, Portugal, and Italy may all have to go through the play off route themselves to secure their passage to the World Cup.
RealSport has chosen a World XI of players who could miss out on this summer’s tournament.
GK: Gigi Buffon, Italy
One of the greatest keepers to have ever graced the planet, Buffon is still going strong at the age of 39.
Buffon has of course already won the World Cup, back in Germany in 2006 when Italy beat France on penalties in Zinedine Zidane’s last ever match – oh yeah, and there may have been some sort of headbutt incident in that fateful game too.
Despite that achievement, it would still be a big disappointment if the Italian failed to play in what will surely be his last ever World Cup for Italy.
CB: Javier Mascherano, Argentina
Argentina are in big trouble.
They have to beat Ecuador, which is no easy feat. The Barcelona centre back has been one of the finest defenders in world football for the past four years, transitioning from a no-nonsense holding midfielder to brilliant centre back.
If Argentina are to beat Ecuador in their next game, the experience and know how of Mascherano at the back will prove crucial.
CB: Samuel Umtiti, France
In truth, France should qualify.
However, they are currently behind Sweden in the qualifying table, and are not guaranteed to qualify through the play off route.
Since Carles Puyol’s retirement in 2014, Barcelona have greatly missed his presence at the back to partner Gerard Pique.
That was until they signed Umtiti from Lyon in the summer of 2016.
The left footed centre back reads the game superbly, is excellent on the ball and uses his powerful physique to help dominate opponents.
Umtiti is fast establishing himself as one of the world’s best defenders.
CB: Giorgio Chiellini, Italy
In fairness, Italy were dealt a tough hand.
Not many countries in world football would finish above Spain in the same group, so Italy are likely to be forced to go via the play off route, despite winning six of their eight games, and only losing one.
Chiellini is as reliable as they come.
He was a major part of arguably the best defensive structure in the world for Juventus in the last three years and will be a huge miss in Russia if Italy fail to qualify.
CM: Arturo Vidal, Chile
The Chileans are sixth in their World Cup qualifying group, one point behind Argentina, and look unlikely to reach the play offs.
That means Munich’s box to box star will probably miss out on Russia next year.
Vidal is an all round midfielder and his energy, composure and overall brilliance will be missed at next summer’s tournament. Chile are usually a breath of fresh air at the tournaments, with their tactical brilliance and aggressive pressing style and the whole team would be missed.
CM: Paul Pogba, France
Pogba has received a lot of unfair criticism since his return to England last summer, but he is still one of the best midfielders in the world.
The Manchester United star can pass, shoot, dribble and is capable of moments of magic consistently. Pogba plays the game with a free spirit, refreshing to see despite the pressure that is constantly put on his young shoulders.
RM: Arjen Robben, the Netherlands
Despite being 33 years old, Robben is still at the peak of his powers.
You know exactly what the Flying Dutchman is going to do when he’s on the ball, but stopping him is another matter entirely.
The Bayern Munich superstar is almost unplayable when he cuts inside onto his left foot, with his now infamous bend into the top corner leaving the keeper and defence helpless.
The Netherlands don’t seem to have much hope of qualifying for the World Cup, so we will have to make do without Robben’s wizardry.
LM: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
We profess, this team isn’t going to have much balance, and there will be superstars who didn’t make the cut. However, a potential World Cup without both Messi and Ronaldo is unthinkable.
He, alongside Messi, have taken football to a new level. The levels these two have reached have never been seen before and may never be seen again. Quite simply – they are football.
Ronaldo has scored 411 goals in 401 games for Real Madrid and the tournament will be far worse without Ronaldo if Portugal don’t make it.
CAM: Lionel Messi, Argentina
Like Ronaldo, how can you have the best football tournament in the world, potentially without the two best players?
Messi is arguably the greatest footballer to have ever lived and it will be a travesty if he misses out on playing in his last ever World Cup whilst in the prime of his career.
With Argentina needing a win against Ecuador Argentina will need Messi and his magic more than ever.
A man for any stage, can he get his country over the line? We certainly hope so.
ST: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Gabon
Gabon are currently third in their qualifying group, with only the top team going to the World Cup.
It means the speedy striker will have to watch the tournament from the comfort of his own home.
Aubameyang has established himself as one of the greatest strikers on the planet for Borussia Dortmund in the last few years.
He is a ruthless finisher and has incredible pace.
Defenders will breathe a sigh of relief knowing they won’t have to defend against the forward at next summer’s tournament.
ST: Antoine Griezmann, France
Again, France should qualify.
But if they don’t, we will be without the Euro 2016 top scorer (six goals) and one of the finest strikers on the planet.
Griezmann has exceptional quality and has spearheaded the attack for his country, and Atletico Madrid for the last few years.
Griezmann has every type of finish in his locker and is often unplayable with his intelligence and supreme technique.
He is the best player in La Liga outside the monopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid and the envy of most clubs in Europe.
Who would you be disappointed to see miss the tournament? Comment below!
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