The World Cup is the biggest stage in all of football, an event four years in the making that features the best national teams on the planet facing off against each other. There are, of course, only so many nations that qualify for World Cup spots, and thus some of the best footballers in the game are unfortunately left out. In some cases, talented players are not called into their national teams for the World Cup for one reason or another. Injuries also rob players of what could be memorable and historic moments of their careers.
Here are 10 great players not in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
10. Landon Donovan — USA
The fact of the matter is that we may never know all of the reasons for why United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann decided to not include Donovan in his World Cup squad. Perhaps rumors that Donovan was not fully fit during the May camp were accurate. Maybe Klinsmann was not impressed with Donovan’s lackluster form during the opening months of the 2014 Major League Soccer season.
We’ll probably never know the full story.
Donovan will, when he hangs up his boots, go down as the greatest American footballer in history. Numerous fans and analysts from all over the country believe that the LA Galaxy star should be in the US starting XI let alone in the team, in general. Klinsmann could regret this decision down the road.
9. Giuseppe Rossi — Italy
Rossi, a native of New Jersey, had dreamed of playing for Italy in a World Cup, an option for him via family ties. Fate has, sadly for him, had other plans. He was cut from the squad leading up to the 2010 World Cup, and fitness concerns resulted in the same occurring before this year’s tournament.
At 27 years old, it’s possible that Rossi will never feature for Italy in a World Cup.
The talent required to play in a World Cup is obviously there. Rossi buried 16 goals for Fiorentina this past season. The Italian international has to find a way to avoid the injury bug if he is to have a chance to make headlines in the summer of 2018.
8. Jermain Defoe — England
The England forward moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Toronto FC earlier this year for several reasons. One was that Defoe got paid, and in a big way, to make the switch over to the Canadian MLS side. Another was that Defoe was hoping to get additional playing time that he wouldn’t see at Spurs, opportunities to show that he was still worthy of playing in a World Cup.
Defoe has played well with TFC, but he has apparently not been good enough to feature for England even as a sub in the World Cup. Roy Hodgson may regret leaving the streaky scorer in North America. His England team lost to Italy in their World Cup opener.
7. Petr Cech — Czech Republic
Cech is, statistically speaking, one of the best goalkeepers on the planet. He holds the Premier League record for reaching 100 clean sheets in the fewest appearances (180). Cech saved three penalties, two in a shootout, in the 2012 Champions League Final for Chelsea. He will go down as one of the best to ever play his position.
Cech has represented the Czech Republic in multiple competitions. He was in the country’s squad for the 2006 World Cup, and for several European Championships. Cech will not have the chance to do so this summer, however, as the Czechs did not qualify for the tournament.
6. Arda Turan — Turkey
Turan, who has emerged as one of the more coveted players in the world as a member of an Atletico Madrid side that won La Liga this past season, will not be playing in the World Cup through little fault of his own. Turkey got off to a slow start in the qualifying stages of the process, and they are not one of the 32 nations participating in Brazil.
That doesn’t mean that Turan is going to have a lousy summer. There are rumors that he could be set to make what could be a big-money move to Barcelona before the end of August. Barca are looking to do whatever possible to keep up with Atletico and with rivals Real Madrid, who won the Champions League when they defeated Atleti in the Final.
5. Robert Lewandowski — Poland
Lewandowski, who will turn 26 years old in August, has been a prolific scorer in the Bundesliga. He is Borussia Dortmund’s leading scorer in European competitions, and he led the German top flight in scoring for 2013-14. Lewandowski is set to join Bayern Munich at the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
His club form has not, over the past couple of years, followed Lewandowski over to when he has played for Poland. He has scored four goals in meaningful matches since 2012. Poland did not qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
4. Radamel Falcao — Colombia
Falcao was, at the end of 2013, an early favorite to win the Golden Boot in the World Cup. He is one of the best strikers in all the world, in a tier right underneath the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, and he has the goods talent-wise to help Colombia win this or any tournament.
His World Cup dreams began to disappear this past January, however, when he suffered a serious knee injury. There had been rumors that Falcao would be 100 percent by the end of April, but that was not meant to be. He trained with his national team in May, but he was unable to reach full fitness before the start of the World Cup.
3. Franck Ribery — France
Ribery does not get the love and respect he deserves from casual sports fans. He finished third in the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Ribery was named the best player of the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League. He has played a significant role in Bayern Munich dominating German football.
A back injury is keeping him sidelined this summer, but Ribery may have been able to do something about that leading up to the World Cup. He refused to take a cortisone injection that would have allowed him to participate in the competition. “I’m not afraid of injections, but I didn’t want to have a cortisone injection from the French doctor. I know it’s not good,” was what Ribery told reporters regarding his fitness.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic — Sweden
Ibra is, when at his best, a living and breathing Create-A-Player video game star; an athletic marvel able to hit highlight reel strikes seemingly at will. He twice found the back of the net for Sweden in their World Cup Playoff versus Portugal, but Ibrahimovic and his country were ultimately eliminated from qualification thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo notching a hat-trick on what was a memorable evening.
“A World Cup without me is nothing to watch,” stated the charismatic player after Sweden were downed by Portugal. That’s not entirely true, but the world is missing out on seeing one of the most fun players in the game do what he does best. There have been whispers that Ibrahimovic could consider joining an MLS team in 2014 or in 2015.
Make it so, soccer gods. North America would be eternally grateful.
1. Gareth Bale — Wales
Bale made a life-altering decision years ago when he chose to represent Wales instead of England in international play. The most expensive transfer in the history of world football would absolutely start for England in the 2014 World Cup, possibly being the country’s best player in the tournament. He is instead on the outside looking in.
That said, Bale has millions of reasons to be happy this summer. He is one of the top paid footballers on the planet. He netted the Champions League winner for Real Madrid. And he gets to reside in sunny Spain.
Who needs a World Cup to feel content?