No ticket to Russia
All 32 nations have sent their most well-equipped and strongest squads for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Yet, there are some prominent footballers who have surprisingly failed to make the cut. Here are five footballers who performed quite well last season for either club or country or both, but will not be seen on the field in Russia, writes Sridhar Venkatesh.
With the world's most watched sporting event less than a week away, all eyes will be glued on Russia as football teams from 32 nations will take to the field, carrying the hopes and dreams of their respective countrymen on their strong shoulders. The 2018 FIFA World Cup — the 21st edition of the premier football tournament — will kick off this Thursday evening, with all the matches being played in 12 stadiums located across 11 Russian cities.
Germany, the winners of the 2014 edition of the tournament are poised to successfully defend their coveted title. However, if the remaining 31 teams hope to stand any chance of winning the title, they their best 11 on the field have to give their all. All 32 nations have sent their most well-equipped and strongest squad for the tournament. Yet, there are some prominent footballers who have surprisingly failed to make the cut. Experienced players, including the likes of Argentina's first choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero, Brazilian full back Dani Alves and French centre-back Laurent Koscielny were ruled out of the tournament on account of debilitating injuries, despite having made the initial cut to go to Russia. Others, such as Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas and versatile German defender Emre Can missed the bus as their form did not quite impress their national selectors. There are other players, including French striker Karim Benzema, who were left out due to disciplinary issues, despite having played well for his club Real Madrid last season.
Yet, there are some prominent names, whose exclusion from their nation's 23-man squad led many to raise eyebrows and others to drop their jaws. Here are five footballers who performed quite well last season for either club or country or both, but will not be seen on the field in Russia.
Having won more than international 50 caps since his debut in 2010, the Chelsea centre back was a vital part of the Brazilian squad in the 2014 World Cup, which was played in his native country. Before they were knocked out in the most humiliating of ways by Germany in the semi-final, Brazil seemed to be cruising through; however, a serious back injury to star forward Neymar in the quarter-final against Colombia rang the death knell to Brazil's chances. Luiz had a decent outing with Chelsea in the 2017-18 season, before he suffered an injury and even fell out with manager Antonio Conte. Despite winning the FA Cup, Chelsea had a lacklustre season as they finished an abysmal fifth, thus failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. However, Luiz's absence from the Brazil national squad did catch many surprise, as he is considered to be a versatile player who can not only defend well, but even provide support to the attack when necessary. Yet, Brazil coach Tite has decided not to take the 31-year-old defender to Russia. In Luiz's absence, his former PSG teammate Marquinhos is expected to partner up with Thiago Silva.
Defying all expectations, the Arsenal number 10 had been shipped off on loan to Bournemouth in the 2016-17 season. However, after returning to Arsenal in the 2017-18 season, Wilshere made an impressive comeback to rightfully claim his spot in the London-based club. Despite all his efforts to impress England coach Gareth Southgate, Wilshere will be resigned to only watch his national side fight at the World Cup on television. The midfielder had been selected for friendly international games earlier this year, but after much speculation over his inclusion, he failed to make the final cut. Wilshere too went public on his Twitter handle, say "It goes without saying that I'm naturally incredibly disappointed to have been left out of the England squad for the World Cup. I've felt fit, sharp and strong all season and believe I should be in the squad! And given the chance I could have made a real impact." In spite of his diminutive stature, Wilshere is known to have impressive ball control and a terrific vision. His pinpoint passing as a deep-lying midfielder is perhaps something the Three Lions would miss in Russia.
Twenty two-year-old German winger Leroy Sane was expected to be one of the stars who would set the pitch on fire in Russia. However, the exclusion of the Manchester City attacker came as a shocker to many, not to mention himself. When asked why he decided to leave Sane behind, German head coach Joachim Loew gave the most pragmatic answer he ever could have. "Leroy has a huge amount of talent and he will be back in again because from September we will redouble our work with him. But in his games with the national team he hasn't quite done the business," Loew told reporters, who chose to go with another 22-year-old winger in Bayer Leverkusen's Julian Brandt. "It was a very close decision. If it were a 100 metre race, it would have been a photo finish," Loew said of his decision to pick Brandt over Sane. It may be noted that Sane was voted the PFA Player of the Year for his part in Manchester City's magnificent 2017-18 Premier League campaign, where they lost only one game. Yet, Sane will surely have an important role to play in Germany's fortunes in the future.
In many ways, Radja Nainggolan is the definition of the term 'enfant terrible'. The Belgian midfield engine is known as much for his dynamism on the field as he is for his chain smoking, casual drinking and wild partying antics. Nainggolan has – despite his off field antics – been a player of exceptional work rate for Italian giants Roma. Known fondly as 'Il Ninja' by Roma fans, Nainggolan is the type of midfielder that every manager dreams of. Fast and versatile, Nainggolan drums up attacks for Roma whenever he obtains possession of the ball. Whenever Roma are on the defensive, Nainggolan wins the ball with his sheer physicality. Despite these qualities, Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez decided to snub the 30-year-old, most likely due to the latter's volatile behaviour. Nainggolan's knee jerk reaction to announce retirement from international football only went on to prove Martinez's point. There are not many midfielders who can stand in front of the defense and be as stubborn in front of the opposition as Nainggolan usually is. In his absence, the Rode Duivels could have a tough time defensively.
The selection of Mauro Icardi was bound to be a dicey affair. With a paltry four international games for Argentina in his kitty and no goals to count for, Icardi would be an easy snub for the layman. However, fans of Inter Milan – the club he plays for – know his true worth better than most. The 2017-18 season was memorable for Inter fans, as they managed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League after a long gap of seven years. And it would not have been possible without Icardi single handedly carrying the team on his shoulders. With 29 goals in the Serie A, the 25-year-old was the joint top scorer with Lazio's Ciro Immobile. The previous season, Icardi had scored 24 goals. Despite raking up such impressive numbers, Icardi was snubbed from the national side. The reasons for Icardi's omission are more complex than that of any other player in this list. Several reports claim that he was left from the side as he was not in the good books of Argentine talisman Lionel Messi. Moreover, Icardi's entire fiasco with his former Sampdoria teammate Maxi Lopez, which grabbed headlines back in 2013, cast a shadow on Icardi's national team prospects. Icardi had some game time during Argentina's qualifying campaign. But, in the end, Icardi was – as expected – left out of the final 23-man squad.