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Absent XI: The best players who won't be at the World Cup


With the World Cup squads officially submitted, the talent that'll be on display in Qatar has been finalized. So, too, has the collection of players that won't be on show. Be it because of injury, coaching decisions, or a failure to qualify, numerous stars will watch the tournament from home. With that in mind, here's a squad made up entirely of players who, for one reason or another, won't take part in this winter's competition.

Starting XI

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy) - Didn't qualify: It's been all downhill for Donnarumma's international career since he spearheaded Italy's triumph at Euro 2020. After being crowned Player of the Tournament, the PSG 'keeper couldn't save Italy from heartbreak in qualifying. The ex-prodigy will be 27 at the next World Cup.

Ferland Mendy (France) - Not selected: With left-back Theo Hernandez picked ahead of Mendy, the Real Madrid full-back seems to have fallen short of Didier Deschamps' expectations. It's surprising but not totally unexpected for Mendy, who's played just nine times for France since debuting in 2018.

Fikayo Tomori (England) - Not selected: The Milan defender may have been excluded from Gareth Southgate's England team due to a pair of dreadful performances against Chelsea in the Champions League earlier this season. But that still doesn't explain how Harry Maguire was picked ahead of Tomori.

David Alaba (Austria) - Didn't qualify: Another failed qualifying bid could spell the end to Alaba's hopes of ever playing in a World Cup match. The versatile Real Madrid defender's efforts weren't enough to help Austria in its UEFA playoff semifinal loss to Wales.

Reece James (England) - Injured: England has plenty of depth at right-back that should help offset the loss of James. But the Chelsea star will still be sorely missed in Qatar by a squad that he was expected to be a vital part of before he went down with a knee injury in October.

Marco Verratti (Italy) - Didn't qualify: There are a handful of players from Italy's failed World Cup qualifying campaign that are worthy of a place on this list. But Verratti is perhaps head and shoulders above the rest. The fact that he's only appeared in one World Cup at the age of 30 is a crime.

Paul Pogba (France) - Injured: Despite being nowhere near the same level when he helped France win it all in 2018, Pogba was very much still in Deschamps' plans for Qatar right up until the moment he was officially ruled out due to injury.

Martin Odegaard (Norway) - Didn't qualify: The absence of a player like Odegaard in Qatar is a big loss for the sport. He's blossomed under Mikel Arteta on his way to establishing himself as an elite midfielder during Arsenal's surprise run at the Premier League title this season.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt) - Didn't qualify: The chance to again watch Salah play at the World Cup in his prime may be over. Seeing as he'll turn 34 a week after the 2026 World Cup kicks off, the Liverpool star's best days could, unfortunately, be behind him by then.

Erling Haaland (Norway) - Didn't qualify: Norway's failure to qualify for its first World Cup since 1998 robbed fans of a chance to watch Haaland, the record-breaking Manchester City star, compete on the sport's biggest stage. No matter which team you support, that's a huge shame.

Victor Osimhen (Nigeria) - Didn't qualify: Serie A's hottest scorer won't get a chance to showcase his skills in Qatar, as Osimhen - like a majority of his Italian teammates at Napoli - prepares to watch the World Cup from home. The 23-year-old striker leads Italy's top flight with nine goals in 11 games.


To round out our 26-man squad, here are some of the other stars who won't be in Qatar this month. If, for some reason, the starting XI faltered and this team needed a spark off the bench, there are plenty of attacking options:

Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak (Slovenia), Mike Maignan (France)

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Spain), Mats Hummels (Germany), Andy Robertson (Scotland)

Midfielders: Franck Kessie (Ivory Coast), Thiago Alcantara (Spain), N'Golo Kante (France), Renato Sanches (Portugal)

Forwards: Diogo Jota (Portugal), Luis Diaz (Colombia), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Federico Chiesa (Italy), Timo Werner (Germany), Roberto Firmino (Brazil)

How far would this team go at the World Cup?

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