Even though it is the biggest event in football, the World Cup will be devoid of some of the best players in the world in 2018.
Alexis Sanchez won’t be taking part as Chile fell at the final hurdle, although their absence at the tournament influenced Argentina’s inclusion, meaning fans won’t have to miss out on seeing Lionel Messi turn out for the Albiceleste. Similarly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has retired from international football and will not represent Sweden in Russia, despite teasing the media and fans with vague suggestions that he would be going to the tournament.
Italy are probably the most notable absentees, with the four-time World Cup winners having crashed out to Sweden in the play-offs, ending Gianluigi Buffon’s hopes of picking up a second title. Gareth Bale’s Wales also crashed out in the play-offs, while the Netherlands, who finished third in 2014, miss out too after a dismal qualifying campaign. The United States men’s national team didn’t make the cut either, meaning they’ll miss their first World Cup since 1986.
However, even those nations who did qualify for the tournament will be worrying about the fitness of their star players ahead of the competition and some teams have been dealt personnel blows already.
France boss Didier Deschamps will have to plan for Russia without the services of Laurent Koscielny, who suffered a horrific Achilles tendon injury while playing for Arsenal against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-final, while Karim Benzema’s omission is taken as a given due to the Real Madrid striker’s soured relationship with the national team.
Gareth Southgate will have to re-think his plans for England somewhat after Liverpool duo Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez sustained season-ending injuries.
While Neymar has been included in Tite’s Brazil plans, the Paris Saint-Germain forward is fighting against the clock to recover fully from a foot injury. Brazil and PSG medical staff remain optimistic, however, that he will be ready to play again come mid-June. Dani Alves has been ruled out for certain for the Selecao.