Haaland, Salah head best XI of players not at 2022 World Cup
Welcome to the World Cup, a showcase of the world’s best footballers and those at the very peak of their powers, with host nation Qatar kicking it all off on Sunday, Nov. 20 when they take on Ecuador.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Harry Kane will all be attempting to dominate the stage, but the next month will be tough for some of the best players in the world who will have to sit back and watch from the comfort of their own homes.
In a 3-4-3 formation, we pick out an XI of the biggest stars who either failed to qualify with their countries or who have been forced to sit out of the tournament because of injury.
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International team: Italy
International caps: 49
Club team: Paris Saint-Germain
Italy’s No. 1 goalkeeper is having to watch his second successive World Cup at home following the failure of the Euro 2020 winners to book their place in Qatar.
The Italians missed out in 2018 after being eliminated by Sweden in the playoffs, but they suffered an even bigger blow this time by losing their playoff semifinal at home to North Macedonia.
Donnarumma emerged from Euro 2020 as the player of the tournament and he would have gone to Qatar as one of the world’s best goalkeepers. But just like in 2018, the PSG star is missing out on football’s big party.
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International team: England
International caps: 15
Club team: Chelsea
England have an embarrassment of riches at right-back, but the injury-enforced absence of James has arguably denied manager Gareth Southgate his best player in that position.
Southgate can still turn to Newcastle United‘s Kieran Trippier, Manchester City‘s Kyle Walker and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, but James tops them all with his ability defensively and going forward.
But a knee injury suffered against AC Milan in the Champions League means he misses out.
International team: Austria
International caps: 96
Club team: Real Madrid
Alaba has been a world-class performer at centre-back and in midfield for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid for the past five years, and is also Austria’s top player.
But the Austrians had a dismal qualification campaign, finishing fourth in UEFA Group F behind Denmark, Scotland and Israel.
International team: Scotland
International caps: 59
Club team: Liverpool
Scotland’s failure to beat Ukraine in a playoff semifinal in June meant that Robertson, arguably the most consistent left-back in the world in recent years, misses out on Qatar.
Having failed to qualify for a World Cup since France ’98, Scotland’s lack of depth is a recurring issue, but in Robertson and Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney, they possess two of the best fighting for one position.
Robertson’s absence from the World Cup will be a boost for Liverpool, but the 28-year-old could still make it to United States, Mexico and Canada for the 2026 World Cup.
International team: Colombia
International caps: 37
Club team: Liverpool
A knee injury suffered earlier this season would have almost certainly ruled Diaz out of the World Cup had Colombia made it to Qatar, but the country suffered a disastrous qualification campaign and even failed to book a playoff spot.
With the top four nations qualifying automatically, Colombia were beaten to the playoffs by Peru (who lost their intercontinental decider against Australia), so Diaz was already facing a long winter at Liverpool before suffering his injury.
Colombia’s absence from Qatar also means that Radamel Falcao, at 36, is likely to have played his last World Cup.
International team: Italy
International caps: 41
Position: Central midfield
Club team: Inter Milan
The Inter midfielder was outstanding for Italy during their successful Euro 2020 campaign and would gone to Qatar as one of the leading midfielders in the tournament.
Barella can distribute the ball and score goals, while his style complements that of the more creative Marco Verratti.
But with Italy missing out on successive World Cups, Barella will be 29 when the next one comes around in 2026, so could still shine on the big stage.
International team: France
International caps: 91
Position: Central midfield
Club team: Juventus
The Juve midfielder played a key role in France’s World Cup triumph at Russia 2018, but injury means that he will miss out this time.
The 29-year-old has been sidelined with a knee injury since returning to Juve on a free transfer from Manchester United this summer and has yet to make a competitive appearance for Massimiliano Allegri’s team in his second spell at the club.
Without Pogba, France are losing one of their best players and the World Cup also misses out on one of the game’s most high-profile stars.
International team: Georgia
International caps: 19
Club team: Napoli
Some players are destined to spend their entire careers trying, and failing, to play in a World Cup, and the Napoli winger Kvaratskhelia might just be consigned to that fate with Georgia.
But with Wales reaching a World Cup for the first time since 1958, handing Gareth Bale a dream swansong, Kvaratskhelia can live in hope that his tiny nation will qualify and give him the chance to play on the biggest stage.
The 21-year-old has been a sensation for Napoli this season, particularly in the Champions League, but with Georgia finishing fourth out of five in UEFA qualifying Group B, he never came close to qualifying for Qatar.
International team: Egypt
International caps: 86
Club team: Liverpool
Liverpool forward Salah has had a heartbreaking year on the international stage with Egypt. Having suffered defeat in the Africa Cup of Nations final against Senegal in February, Salah then missed a spot kick in the penalty shootout defeat against the same opponents in the World Cup playoff.
It’s a blow for the World Cup to be missing a player of Salah’s star quality, but also for African football, who must be kicking themselves over a process that led to the continent’s two best teams meeting in a playoff for one place in Qatar.
Salah’s 2018 World Cup was marred by his failure to fully overcome the shoulder injury suffered in that year’s Champions League final against Real Madrid, and he won’t even get the chance to make amends.
International team: Norway
International caps: 23
Club team: Manchester City
There is no bigger name or brighter star in football right now than Haaland, but the Manchester City forward misses out on Qatar after Norway finished third in their qualifying group. Netherlands qualified as group winners and Turkey beat Norway to a playoff spot before losing to Portugal.
Despite his 23 goals in 18 games since signing for City this summer, Haaland scored just five goals in the World Cup qualifying rounds for Norway — seven fewer than Group G top scorer Memphis Depay of Netherlands — with three of those coming against minnows Gibraltar.
Chances are clearly much harder to come by with Norway than City, but Haaland is capable of scoring the goals to carry his national team to the next World Cup in 2026.
International team: Ukraine
International caps: 8
Club team: Shakhtar Donetsk
The Shakhtar Donetsk winger is one of the brightest talents to emerge from Ukraine in recent years and his performances in the Champions League this season suggest he will earn a big move to a major European league in the months ahead.
Despite the conflict that is ravaging the country, Ukraine came close to qualifying for the World Cup after reaching the UEFA playoffs. But after beating Scotland in Glasgow in the semifinal, Ukraine lost out to a Bale-inspired Wales in Cardiff, denying the nation the chance of a hugely emotive appearance in Qatar.
Jan Oblak: Slovenia haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 2010 — two years before Atletico Madrid No. 1 Oblak made his international debut. One of the outstanding goalkeepers of his generation, the 29-year-old will hope to finally make it to the World Cup in 2026.
Milan Skriniar: The Inter centre-half is reported to be close to a move to Paris Saint-Germain in the new year, but Slovakia‘s failure to qualify means that that the 27-year-old will spend the next six weeks at home. Having finished third in Group H behind Croatia and Russia, Slovakia were denied the chance to replace the suspended Russia in the World Cup playoffs, missing out on a semifinal against eventual qualifiers Poland.
N’Golo Kante: The Chelsea midfielder was an unsung hero of France’s 2018 World Cup triumph. While Kylian Mbappe and Pogba claimed the spotlight, Kante was there to hold it all together in front of Didier Deschamps’ back four. But a long-term hamstring injury has forced Kante out of the competition, denying France their best holding midfielder.
Jesus ‘Tecatito’ Corona: Mexico’s star player misses the World Cup after suffering a fractured ankle while training with Sevilla earlier this season. Corona has undergone surgery, but the player will not be fit in time for Qatar. Without Corona, Mexico will be missing one of their most creative players and one capable of making a difference against high-ranked opponents.
Victor Osimhen: Like his Napoli teammate Kvaratskhelia, Osimhen is tearing it up in Serie A and the Champions League this season. But the 23-year-old won’t be going to the World Cup after Nigeria suffered an away-goals defeat against Ghana in the playoffs. Had Nigeria qualified, Osimhen would have given the Super Eagles the goal threat to make it through the group stage and perhaps make him a contender for the Golden Boot.
Benjamin Sesko: The FC Salzburg striker was pursued by both Manchester United and Chelsea this summer before agreeing to move to RB Leipzig in 2023. At 19, Sesko is regarded as one of the hottest young strikers in world football, but he was unable to help Slovenia qualify for their third World Cup, as they finished fourth behind Croatia, Russia and Slovakia. But if Sesko continues to develop as many predict, he will spearhead his country’s hopes of qualification in 2026.
Martin Odegaard: The Arsenal captain has emerged as one of the most consistent players in Mikel Arteta’s team and is now living up to the hype that greeted his move to Real Madrid as a 16-year-old. But just like international teammate Haaland, Odegaard was unable to make the difference for Norway in their qualification campaign. However, the country will be tough opponents in the qualifying rounds for 2026 if Odegaard and Haaland stay fit.