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Alamy Stock Photo Erling Haaland (file pic).
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Missing XI: The best players not at the 2022 World Cup

Erling Haaland and some of the other stars you won’t see in Qatar.

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy): Widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, the 23-year-old PSG stopper was part of the Italy side that suffered a shock 1-0 loss to North Macedonia in the playoffs, ensuring that — eight months on from winning the European Championships, Donnarumma and co would not be travelling to Qatar. He is young enough to feel entitled to think there will be more good days on the horizon at international level.

Reece James (England): Over the past four seasons, the 22-year-old has swiftly established himself as one of the best full-backs in the Premier League. Already a Champions League winner with Chelsea, England have plenty of options at right-back, but James had a very good chance of starting — he played 90 minutes in the 3-3 draw with Germany last September when Gareth Southgate picked more or less a full-strength side. However, injury has put paid to his hopes of playing in Qatar, though there have been suggestions the player is not happy with the manager’s unwillingness to gamble on his fitness.

David Alaba (Austria): The versatile Austria international has invariably been playing at centre-back for Real Madrid of late, having joined the Spanish club in July last year after 13 years at Bayern. However, for the purposes of this exercise, we’re shoehorning him in at left-back, where he often played during his time in Germany and still usually operates for his country. With 96 appearances, the 30-year-old is already a legendary figure for Austria. But unfortunately, Alaba has never played at a World Cup. They most recently came fourth in a group in a group in which Denmark, Scotland and Israel all finished above them. They still advanced via the Nations League to the playoffs, where they were beaten 2-1 by a Gareth Bale-inspired Wales, meaning their 24-year wait to reach the prestigious tournament would be extended.

Leonardo Bonucci (Italy): The man of the match in Italy’s Euros final win over England, while also featuring at centre-back in the team of the tournament alongside Harry Maguire. Perhaps tellingly, while seven players that started the Euros final played in the North Macedonia debacle, Bonucci was not among them, having been unavailable through injury. He subsequently hit out at Uefa’s “absurd” qualifying format in the aftermath of the embarrassing loss.

Giorgio Chiellini (Italy): Given that he is now 38 and playing for Los Angeles FC, you could argue Chiellini doesn’t deserve to be on this list. However, it’s still just over a year since he starred for the Italy side that won the Euros and defenders in particular do not lose all their ability during that relatively short time period. Italy’s joint fourth-highest appearance holder with 117 caps, Chiellini’s international career ended on a sour note — he was struggling with injury at the time so his last game was a 90th-minute substitute appearance during the North Macedonia upset, with that defeat prompting his retirement from international football. He can still reflect on a career in which he won nine Serie A titles in over 400 appearances with Juventus. But remarkably for a player of his stature, he only played at two World Cups. 2006 when Italy triumphed came a little too early — it wasn’t until the following year that he cemented his place in the squad. He played regularly alongside Fabio Cannavaro at the 2010 World Cup, but Italy suffered a humiliating group-stage exit. The same fate befell them four years later, as they failed to emerge from a group containing England, Uruguay and Costa Rica, with Chiellini most memorable in that tournament as the player infamously bitten by Luis Suarez. Of that incident, Chiellini reportedly said: “I called him a couple of days after the game, but he had no need to apologise to me. I too am a son of a b*tch on the field and proud of it.” Worse was to come as Chiellini and co failed to qualify for the next two World Cups.

N’Golo Kante (France): One of the best midfielders in the world for close to a decade now, perhaps unsurprisingly given his all-action style, age appears to be catching up with the 31-year-old. He has made just two Premier League appearances this season, the last of which was in August, with a long-term injury ruling him out and meaning he misses the World Cup. For all the talent at the holders’ disposal, his absence certainly lessens the likelihood of France triumphing in the tournament and repeating the feat of four years ago in Russia when Kante was an integral player for the squad, featuring in all seven of his country’s matches at the tournament.

Jorginho (Italy): Arguably the standout player at the last Euros, featuring in the team of the tournament, although teammate Gianluigi Donnarumma pipped him to the Player of the Tournament award. Also a Champions League winner with Chelsea and a key player for the Blues for five seasons now, he no doubt considers the North Macedonia humiliation, in which he completed 90 minutes, as one of the rare low points in his career.

Marco Verratti (Italy):  One of the most naturally talented midfielders in the world and a stalwart for PSG, having been a regular for the French side for more than a decade now and winning a record-breaking eight Ligue 1 titles during that period. Missed Italy’s first two games at Euro 2020, but went on to become a key player for the Azzurri at that tournament, having a big hand in the equalising goal against England, as his header was saved by Jordan Pickford before Bonucci converted. Often compared in style to Italy legend Andrea Pirlo and at 30, should now be close to his peak, therefore it’s a shame a player of Verratti’s gifts will not be gracing the tournament in Qatar.

Federico Chiesa (Italy): Another star of Italy’s Euros triumph, winning a place in the Team of the Tournament and earning the man-of-the-match award in their semi-final win over Spain. The 25-year-old has had a decidedly mixed time since then. Last January, an ACL injury in Juventus’ 4-3 win over Roma ruled him out for a significant period, meaning he was badly missed amid Italy’s ignominious World Cup qualification exit. After a 10-month absence, he finally returned earlier this month, coming on as a substitute in Juventus’ Champions League clash with PSG. So even if Italy had qualified for the World Cup, his fitness issues would likely have been a concern.

Mo Salah (Egypt): A star in the Premier League for several years now and already a Liverpool legend. Another prolific season could see him surpass the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Fowler,  though he still has some way to go to catch all-time club top scorer Ian Rush, who has 346 goals from 660 matches. Hence there was real jubilation during the summer when he penned a new long-term contract with the Reds. Nonetheless, he is among the most talented players not travelling to Qatar. A heartbreaking penalty kicks loss to Sadio Mane’s Senegal, with Salah missing in the shootout, ended Egypt’s qualification hopes.

Erling Haaland (Norway): The in-form player not just in the Premier League but the world right now, if you were to give any club in the world a choice of a single player to buy on a free transfer, the most common answer would likely be Haaland. He has registered 18 goals from 13 top-flight games thus far, leaving him six ahead of nearest rival Harry Kane, while he has managed an equally phenomenal 23 goals from 18 appearances in all competitions. He also hit five goals for Norway in qualifying, but they failed to reach Qatar after finishing behind Netherlands and Turkey in their group. He could ultimately turn out to be this generation’s equivalent of George Best — brilliant at club level but with limited impact on the international stage. Norway, after all, have only qualified for three World Cups in their history — 1938, 1994 and 1998. In addition, they have only reached the Euros once, in 2000.

Formation (4-3-3): Donnarumma; James, Chiellini, Bonucci, Alaba; Kante, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Salah, Haaland. 

Subs: Jan Oblak (Slovenia), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Spain), Presnel Kimpembe (France), Wesley Fofana (France), Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy), Toni Kroos (Germany), Martin Odegaard (Norway), Nicolò Barella (Italy), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Gerard Moreno (Spain), Lorenzo Insigne (Italy), Ciro Immobile (Italy), Luis Diaz (Colombia), Diogo Jota (Portugal), Victor Osimhen (Nigeria).

On standby: David De Gea (Spain), Fikayo Tomori (England), Mats Hummels (Germany), Ben Chilwell (England), Andy Robertson (Scotland), Georgino Wijnaldum (Holland), Franck Kessie (Ivory Coast), Paul Pogba (France), Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Georgia), Miguel Almiron (Paraguay), Roberto Firmino (Brazil), Marco Reus (Germany), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Ivan Toney (England), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden).

For the latest news coverage on the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, see here >

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