It is always a harrowing time when squads are announced for the World Cup. For the fans who hope their favourite players will be on the plane, for the coaches who have the unenviable job of selecting only 23 players from a whole nation’s luxury of talents, and of course for the players who miss out on what is sometimes a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent their countries at the grandest stage. This year, there have been so many players who I believe would be gutted to be missing out on the global spectacle in Russia. Players who are fit and willing, and who could easily make a case for themselves to be in their national team’s squad to the World Cup, but somehow find themselves watching from a distance. There are so many players that they could make a 33rd nation at the Mundial and it would be hard to bet against them going far in the competition. This, in my opinion, would be the starting 11 of that 33rd nation.
Neto, Valencia’s No.1 was on a level of shot stopping that rivals the other Brazilian goalkeepers who made the eventual 23 man squad. He made more saves per 90 minutes than both Roma’s Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson and even made more saves per goal than the latter. Only Alisson beats him in this regard 3.14 saves per goal to 3.03. His undoing, however, seems to be his apparent inability to play out the back. His 8.06 passes per game lower when compared to Alisson’s 20.03 and Ederson’s 19.49. To complicate matters more, he has completed only 53% compared to 81% and 89% from his rivals. On the bench, Spanish living legend Iker Casillas who is missing his first major tournament for Spain since his debut 18 years ago. He is joined by one time (not so long ago) England No.1 Joe Hart whose spectacular loss in form has seen him axed from the World Cup squad in Favour of Burnley’s Nick Pope.
JOAO CANCELO: Not even Cancelo’s 3 goals in 7 appearances for the national team could save him from getting the chop from the 35 man squad which amazingly contained 4 right backs. The versatile and skillful fullback who is a target for European giants Juventus and Manchester United and could cost either club up to £30m was in fine form last season while on loan with Inter Milan from Valencia. He was however left behind along with Barcelona right back Nélson Semedo in favour of Leicester City’s latest high profile signing Ricardo Pereira and Southampton‘s Cedric Soares who has been Portugal’s number 1 right back for some time now. Right back on the bench? Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto. Down the pecking order behind Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Odriozola despite being the first choice right back in the Blaugrana’s double-winning season.
The center-back pairing of AYMERIC LAPORTE and SHKODRAN MUSTAFI would be welcome in most countries. Laporte‘s meteoric rise finally culminated in a much-awaited move away from Athletic Bilbao to the big times, and it rarely gets bigger than a £58m move to Manchester City. The French Centre back helped the Mancunians to a century of points in the EPL but was still overlooked by Didier Deschamps for the French Squad with Adil Rami preferred as a replacement for the injured Laurent Koscielny instead of Laporte who almost ditched France for Spain after the Euro 2016 snub. With no appearances from France yet, he could still make that switch.
His hypothetical center-back partner, Mustafi doesn’t have that luxury though, his 20 appearances for Germany means he’s bound to them for life, and besides the 2018 World Cup snub, it has been a fruitful relationship thus far, yielding a World Cup medal as well as a Confederation’s cup win for the Arsenal man who this time didn’t even make the provisional squad after a below-par season. Fresher faces like Jonathan Tah, Niklas Sule, and Matthias Ginter preferred to the 26-year-old. Other top center backs who won’t be at the World Cup in Russia include Chelsea’s David Luiz who was left out of Brazil’s final 23 man squad and Sassuolo’s Uruguayan defender Mauricio Lemos.
MARCOS ALONSO: PFA Team of The Year member Marcos Alonso will not be at the Mundial after being excluded by Julien Lopetegui from Spain’s final squad announced on 21st May. Indeed, of Chelsea’s Spanish contingent, only Cesar Azpillicueta made the team, which means the likes of record signing Alvaro Morata, 2010 World Cup winners Cesc Fabregas and Pedro join Alonso in missing out on Russia 2018. With Jordi Alba being the undisputed first choice left back for La Roja, it was a straight duel between Alonso and Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal. The latter getting the nod for his versatility. Being adept at playing as a fullback, wing back or even a center back in the right conditions while Alonso‘s overwhelmingly offensive instincts mean that he’s more suited to playing as a wing-back than anywhere else. He’s joined by Juventus and Brazil’s Alex Sandro.
9 – Since the start of last season, Marcos Alonso (12) is the only defender to score more Premier League goals than Patrick van Aanholt. Surge. #STKCRY
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 5, 2018
DM- RADJA NAINGOLAN: The only Roma midfielder to attempt more than 50 tackles (73) as well as provide more than 50 key passes (59), a true box to box midfielder, warrior and also a long range shot virtuoso, His is perhaps the most unbelievable name on this list as Roberto Martinez claims the Roma man was dropped for tactical reasons. With Naingolan‘s expansive skill set, one has to wonder exactly what type of tactics the Spaniard intends to deploy in Russia that he would not be able to fit into. We can only wait and hope to be amazed by Martinez‘ tactical spectacle that warrants dropping Radja, or Martinez might have some awkward questions to answer. On the ‘bench’ is arguably Valencia’s player of the season Geoffrey Kondogbia. Despite his dominant displays in the La Liga which prompted Valencia to quickly trigger their option to buy him outright from Inter Milan, he was excluded from France’s squad to the World Cup.
CM- ADRIEN RABIOT: PSG were all-conquering in France this season. Securing a domestic treble last season but it could not save Manager Unai Emery from getting the sack and couldn’t save the player with the most passes completed in the opposition half in the Ligue 1 from getting axed from the French squad for the World Cup. Despite domestic success by a side that had Rabiot playing the third most minutes in all competitions, the 23-year-old found himself exactly where he was 2 years ago as regards the national team: on the standby list for the World Cup just as he was for the Euros in 2016. But this time Rabiot has decided not to wait around in hopes of an injury and has instead stepped down from the standby list citing an inability/unwillingness to follow the training regimen.
CM- REUBEN NEVES: The less talked about Portuguese midfield prodigy. He might not be a golden boy, but Neves was golden for Wolves in the Championship last season. The former Porto captain was immense for Wolves as they steamrolled to the Championship title and automatic promotion to the Premier League. Neves was the peak of the Portuguese revolution at Wolves this season and the midfield dynamo led Wolves for tackles and interceptions in his 42 appearances for The Wanderers and he also got 6 goals, including a goal of the season contender against Derby. He was nominated for the EFL Championship player of the year and was voted into the EFL and PFA Teams of the year. He could well be on his way to light up the Premier League, but he will have to wait until late August at least to see more of Reuben Neves.
6 – Rúben Neves’ has scored six goals from outside the box in the Championship this season – the most of any player in the competition. Screamer.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 11, 2018
Other central midfielders include Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere whose exclusion even from the Standby list of the 3 Lions caused a minor Twitter war as well as Valencia captain and all-round Mr. Fantastic, Dani Parejo (we really need to look into why Valencia players have been looked so coldly upon for World Cup selection)
RW- MARIO GöTZE has gone from World Cup winner to being snubbed for the World Cup, all in the space of 4 short years. It seems like no time at all has passed since Götze became the first substitute to decide a World cup final when he scored in extra time to prove to his manager that he was “better than Messi” but a failed move to German giants Bayern blighted by spells of poor form and injury has seen him fall in the pecking order for the National team. Even a move back to Dortmund where he rose to prominence was not enough to push back the likes of PFA Young player of the year Leroy Sane, Julian Draxler, and Julian Brandt who have upstaged super Mario and find themselves on Die Mannschaft’s 27-man provisional squad for the World Cup.
LW- RYAN SESSEGNON: Blossoming English winger Ryan Sessegnon has been outstanding for Fulham in their push for top-flight football. He only just clocked 18 4 days after scoring 1 and assisting the other in Fulham’s 2-0 playoff semifinal win over Derby County and would have been the first player born this century to play at a World Cup. But he couldn’t make the cut, however. Not even deemed worthy of a spot on the standby list by England manager Gareth Southgate. You get the feeling his time will come though, as his stock is set to skyrocket while he plays in the Premier League with Fulham or with one of his many suitors or even abroad with French champions PSG said to be circling for the Championship player of the year, young player of the year as well as EFL and PFA Championship TOTY member.
Also on the left wing is Manchester United ace Anthony Martial, who was only good enough for France’s standby list after suffering a dip in form since the January signing of Alexis Sanchez which has seen him relegated to a bit-part role at United.
CF- MAURO ICARDI: Icardi scored 29 goals for Inter Milan in the 2017/2018 Serie A season. 29 goals! and in 34 games to averaging a goal every 102 minutes. Inter’s Captain fantastic was joint Serie A top scorer with Ciro Immobile and had a fantastic individual season playing a major part in Inter returning to the flamboyant nights of the Champions League. Icardi outscored all the forwards Jorge Sampaoli called up with the exception of Lionel Messi. It is Icardi’s inability to ‘click‘ with his international teammates that has seen him left out in the cold instead of being in the squad to Russia. He has so far failed to register a goal for the Albiceleste in 4 appearances and looked far from his usual self when he played during the South American qualifiers for the World Cup, leading manager Jorge Sampaoli to raise doubts over his integration into the National team. Preferring to go with more experienced center forwards Gonzalo Higuaín and Kun Aguero instead.
Bayern Munich’s Sandro Wagner is the other CF in the team. The self-acclaimed best German striker at the moment retired from the National team within hours of the 23 man squad without his name being announced.
There are of course other players who still don’t make this team but whose absences from their countries still raises eyebrows, such as Senegalese duo left-back Pape Souaré and striker Oumar Niasse, Alvaro Morata who has scored more goals for Spain since his debut than any other player bar David Silva, fellow Spaniard Héctor Bellerin, French forward Alexandre Lacazette, English center back Chris Smalling, 2 stars of Gremio’s 2017 Copa Libertadores win Arthur and Luan, and Moroccan Winger Sofiane Boufal. Maybe they could be on our standby list?
Article By: Ayoola Kelechi