MIA At The World Cup: The XI Staying At Home

Tom Dunstan

For any player there is no greater honour than representing your country at a World Cup, it’s the showpiece event of the sporting calendar and it’s the grandest stage where the best players on the planet can showcase their talents.

After battling it out in months of qualifiers, the latest international break has confirmed 23 of the 32 teams that will be on a flight to Russia next summer. But, some countries just couldn’t make the cut and among them sides, we find some of football’s biggest stars.

Jan Oblak – Slovenia and Atletico Madrid

In recent years, Atletico Madrid have gained a reputation for producing some of the best goalkeepers on the planet; Jan Oblak is no exception. This year he retained his crown of La Liga’s best shot-stopper. Sadly for Oblak, his hopes of appearing in a maiden World Cup were crushed as Slovenia were unable to progress from Group F, the group that England topped.

Instead, Slovenia slumped to a fourth-place finish and in their final game also ended Scotland’s World Cup dream.

Antonio Valencia – Ecuador and Manchester United

The man who has turned himself into arguably Jose Mourinho’s most consistent star last season, his performances at right-back saw Valencia voted as the players’ player of the year at Old Trafford last season. But, the current Manchester United skipper couldn’t help inspire Ecuador to what would have been his third consecutiveĀ World Cup finals.

After suffering a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Lionel Messi hat-trick, Ecuador could only finish eighth in the 10-team group.

Virgil van Dijk – Netherlands and Southampton

On a positive note for van Dijk, although he will be missing next summer’s World Cup, the centre-back will have more time to hatch up a new escape plan from St. Mary’s. After making it clear he was desperate to be playing at a higher level, the wantaway defender will be missing out on showcasing his abilities on the grandest of stages.

For the Dutch, this is the second consecutive major tournament they have missed out on, although van Dijk and co may have beaten Sweden 2-0 in their final game, they still finished third in Group A, missing the play-off spot on goal difference.

David Alaba – Austria and Bayern Munich

During his time at Bayern Munich, the left-back-cum-centre-midfielder has run rampant at domestic level, a winner of six Bundesliga titles and a Champions League medal, Alaba’s international career has been far from on a similar level. With his only experienceĀ at a major tournament ending in embarrassmentĀ at Euro 2016, Alaba and Austria will not have a chance to amend their last showing.

Austria instead finished fourth in Group D, six points behind group winners Serbia.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Armenia and Manchester United

The good news for United fans is that they will have both Valencia and Mkhitaryan fresh and raring to go for pre-season next summer. Despite the Armenian ace topping both his countries top scorer and top assists charts, the Manchester United playmaker was unable to steer his side to Russia come June.

Armenia has never qualified for a major tournament and their performances in the qualifying rounds shows just why; Armenia finished fifth in Group E and only managed to pick up seven points out of a possible 30.

Arturo Vidal – Chile and Bayern Munich

Much like Bale has done for Wales, Arturo Vidal has quickly found himself as the poster boy for his country. The Bayern Munich midfielder had been Chile’s star man in their two previous World cup campaigns. But like Bale again, Vidal had to sit out of Chile’s crucial final match-up with Brazil and he had to watch on, powerless, as his team were eliminated.

It really was in touching distance for Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side tho, the boys in red only missed out on a playoff spot by two goals.

Arjen Robben – Netherlands and Bayern Munich

As Dutch football prepares for life after Arjen Robben, you have to wonder, would he have delayed his decision if Holland had marched on to the finals? 100%.

A veteran of three World Cup finals, the Dutch icon announced after Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Sweden that he would be hanging up his orange jersey for good, calling an end to a stellar international career. But, the Bayern midfielder was able to bow out on a personal high note, despite the Dutch missing out on the finals, Robben scored both goals in Tuesday’s win and his final game.

Christian Pulisic – United States and Borussia Dortmund

The stage looked set for one of world football’s youngest stars to step up and really make a name for himself by leading America’s attack, next year. Only aged 19, Pulisic has already established himself as both one of Borussia Dortmund’s and the United States key men.

Wearing the red, white and blue, the young winger has already made 20 caps and has scored an even more impressive nine goals. Despite scoring in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Pulisic will be watching the tournament on television, like any average teenager.

Gareth Bale – Wales and Real Madrid

For Wales, when the announcement came that Bale would be unavailableĀ or their last two group games, it was just a case of if they could get the job done without their talisman, the answer was no. Even coming off the back of a superb Euro 2016 campaign that saw them reach the semi-finals, Wales lost to Ireland in the group decider and their World Cup dreams went up in smoke.

The Real Madrid man’s absence from the tournament will be strongly felt and even in an all-star team, Bale will arguably be next summer’s biggest absentee.

Alexis Sanchez – Chile and Arsenal

Much like van Dijk at Southampton, it has really been a rollercoaster few months for the Arsenal and Chile ace. After a deadline day switch to Manchester City fell through, Sanchez knew he would be spending a year out of the Champions League and to add insult to injury, Sanchez and Chile have also missed out on qualifying for the World Cup.

After a humiliating 3-0 defeat to rivals Brazil, there was some last-minute heartbreak, after Peru equalised against Colombia, Sanchez’s dream of running up the flanks for La Roja in Russia were gone.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Gabon and Borussia Dortmund

Even with the immense talent that is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their side, Gabon were never really seen as a side who stood a chance of mixing it with the elite next Summer, with no fellow big name stars to match Aubameyang, it’s no surprise that Gabon have never qualified for the World Cup.

A goalscoring machine in the Bundesliga, Aubameyang already has eight goals in Germany’s top tier, tied with Robert Lewandowski. With another failed campaign behind him, Aubameyang saved his best excuse for the nation’s failings till last though, the Gabon forward blames some dodgy orange juice he drunk.

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