With all 32 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup now confirmed, we now know that some prominent teams and players will be missing out on the finals in Russia.
While Ireland are still adjusting to the fact that the 16-year wait goes on, Italy are still reeling from missing out on their first World Cup finals since 1958. The Netherlands and Chile also failed to make the final 32, while Argentina needed Lionel Messi to drag them kicking and screaming out of their qualifying group and into the tournament.
But who stands out among those that now have a wide open schedule next summer?
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy). This would have been the Italian legend’s sixth World Cup, but instead he bows out with five after the Azzurri’s play-off final defeat to Sweden. Buffon will always have the 2006 victory to look back on, but losing the chance to go out on his own terms still feels slightly unfair on him.
Seamus Coleman (Ireland). Ireland badly missed a leader against Denmark on Tuesday night, and Coleman’s on-pitch absence has been felt since breaking his leg midway through the campaign. He’ll return for Everton in the coming weeks, and ready to lead Ireland’s Euro 2020 push.
Leonardo Bonucci (Italy). After the group stage exits of 2010 and 2014, Bonucci has only ever known disappointment at the World Cup – and won’t get the chance to rectify that until 2022 at the earliest. The Milan defender hasn’t had the best of seasons thus far, but his is another name that would have been right at home in Russia.
Giorgio Chiellini (Italy). Another retiree after Italy’s failure to qualify for 2018, Chiellini (like Bonucci) arrived in the Italian just as the World Cup decline was setting in. The Juventus man deserves better, as the Azzurri’s issues have largely been with scoring goals, not keeping them out.
David Alaba (Austria). The versatile Bayern Munich man remains the talisman for Austria, and despite a poor showing all round in Euro 2016, both Alaba and Austra will be frustrated that they didn’t give a better account of themselves in their World Cup qualifying group.
Arturo Vidal (Chile). The Bayern man saw his reputation skyrocket after brilliant showings in 2010 and 2014, so it is a shame both personally and for his team as a whole that he will not get get the chance to make his mark on a third.
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia). Slovakia’s relative success in qualifying for recent tournaments mean that Hamsik has already played in World Cup (back in 2010), but given his performances for Napoli it is a shame that he won’t be able to replicate that in Russia. Still, he has a Serie A title charge to console himself with.
Marco Verratti (Italy). Verratti is starting to come into his peak years, and although the PSG midfielder is already regrded highly, this could have been the chance to truly make his mark on the world stage. Instead, he will be almost 30 before he gets that chance.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile).The Arsenal forward has struggled for form and fitness this season, but would still have improved the World Cup with his presence. Chile’s surprise exit means that it will be Qatar 2022 (assuming they even qualify for that) before Alexis will be at another World Cup.
Gareth Bale (Wales). Having reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, Wales would have expected to at least reach the play-offs of World Cup qualifying. However, their failure to put teams away at the beginning of the group ended up costing them, and Bale is arguably the most high-profile player not to make it to Russia.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon). Given the low number of World Cup spots afforded to African teams, Aubameyang will likely never play at a World Cup – though given his conduct in rejecting a 2018 qualifier, there is likely to be little in the way of sympathy for him.
On this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast, we’re joined by Cobh Ramblers manager Stephen Henderson to analyse Ireland’s World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark.