Four years is a long time and in football it’s a very long time. I’m not sure how it works with you, but once the dust settles down on the qualification phase for the World Cup, I start getting sudden realisations, through the next ten days, on the players who won’t be part of the big dance. Then I spend the next ten days in disbelief, sharing my angsts with friends and family. We’re conditioned to see certain names through long seasons of club football and it becomes almost impossible to accept that they won’t be a part of the World Cup.
Russia 2018 has claimed its fair share of big names and the players in the following list will be sorely missed come June.
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
He has rubbed more than just a few people the wrong way with his tirade post Juventus’ exit in the Champions League semifinal, and at 40, he isn’t getting any younger. But Gigi Buffon is too massive a figure and we will miss him in Russia. It’s bitter but it’s the truth and football, more often than not, doesn’t let you exit on your own terms. I’m not sure if he will ever be a part of Champions League football and Italy’s shock failure to make the World Cup made Brazil 2014 an abrupt farewell that no one knew about.
Since we are on goalkeepers, I’d even like to give Slovenian and Atletico Madrid ’keeper Jan Oblak a shout. He is brilliant and the world deserved to see more of him.
Alexis Sanchez, Chile
He lit up Arsenal at a time when there was never really anything to look forward to. He’s started to prove his class all over again at Manchester United and it’s a real pity that Sanchez will not get to dance at the world stage. The reigning Copa America champion finished a lowly sixth in the CONMEBOL qualifications and has no one to blame. I will, however, miss Sanchez’s doggedness and willingness to chase every ball.
Gareth Bale, Wales
Gareth Bale hasn’t played a World Cup. And that won’t change this time around too. You’ve to really feel for the Welshman for whom time is running out. Wales earned a ticket to EURO 2016 and things seemed to look bright but a third place finish in Group D of the qualifiers wasn’t good enough. You want to see a talent like Bale play every week, for club, for country or even a kick about in a local park.
David Alaba, Austria
The last time Austria qualified was 20 years back in France. The European nation has to wait another four years after a disastrous qualifying campaign, finishing fourth in its group. Alaba, Austria’s six-time footballer of the year, will have to follow the World Cup from the comfort of his home. Alaba, at left back, has been very consistent for Bayern Munich and it’s unfortunate that he won’t get the chance to be a part of football’s showpiece event.
Arjen Robben, Holland
Everyone’s said it but I’ll put it out there again. The world will miss a bald man in an orange shirt gliding down the right, cutting in and then curling the ball in with his left foot.
The Netherlands’ failure to qualify for the World Cup forced Robben into calling time on his international career and it is a wee bit upsetting. Robben has been part of three European and three World Cup campaigns for the Dutch and he deserved another shot on the big stage.
Other notable misses: Arturo Vidal (Chile), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Christian Pulisic (USA), Leonardo Bonucci (Italy).
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