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Best XI: Players to have missed out on World Cup qualification

Best XI: Players to miss World Cup
© SilverHub
Sports Mole selects the best XI of players who have failed to qualify for next summer's World Cup, including Alexis Sanchez, Gareth Bale and two Ballon d'Or nominees.

The World Cup is the pinnacle of a player's career, with the greatest nations on the planet doing battle for the biggest prize in the game.

However, while many individuals may have scaled the heights of the club game, it is often a different story at international level and Russia 2018 will be without some of the biggest names in world football.

The two headline acts - Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - only just scraped through with last-day wins for Argentina and Portugal respectively, but there are plenty of other superstars who will spend next summer in front of their TVs rather than playing in Russia.

More still could follow them, with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, Christian Eriksen, Mario Mandzukic and Sadio Mane - four of whom were included in the recent 30-man shortlist for the 2017 Ballon d'Or - still uncertain of their place in the tournament.

Three players in contention for that award have already seen their dreams dashed, while plenty more top-quality players, including the likes of Claudio Bravo, Miralem Pjanic, Edin Dzeko, Marek Hamsik, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Arda Turan, Christian Pulisic, Aaron Ramsey and Georginio Wijnaldum do not even make the cut in this team.

Here, in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Sports Mole selects a best XI of players who will spend the 2018 World Cup at home.

GK: Jan Oblak (Slovenia)

Jan Oblak in action for Slovenia during a World Cup qualifier with England© Offside

What better way to start than with a Ballon d'Or-nominated goalkeeper? Jan Oblak has established himself as one of the best shot-stoppers in world football under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, but for Slovenia there was no joy as his side finished fourth in Group F.

An Oblak mistake in their penultimate match against England at Wembley ended any slim hopes they had of making it into the top two, eventually finishing behind the Three Lions, Slovakia and Scotland.

Slovenia conceded just seven goals from their 10 matches, but it was their lack of threat at the other end of the field, where they scored just 12 times, that was ultimately their undoing.

RB: Antonio Valencia (Ecuador)

Antonio Valencia celebrates scoring during the Premier League game between Middlesbrough and Manchester United on March 19, 2017© SilverHub

Now an established right-back at club level, Antonio Valencia still regularly plays in a more attacking role while on international duty for Ecuador, where he is the star man.

Ecuador reached three of the previous four tournaments, but a run of four consecutive defeats at the end of the South American qualifying campaign ended their chances this time around, finishing eighth in the standings.

The final-day defeat to Argentina - which Valencia missed - ensured that Messi and co would be at the World Cup, but Ecuador's own chances had been ended by that stage.

CB: Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands)

Virgil van Dijk warms up prior to the Premier League game between Crystal Palace and Southampton on September 16, 2017© SilverHub

It has not been the best year for Virgil van Dijk, who was sidelined for the majority of the second half of last season through injury, missed out on a dream move to Liverpool in the summer and then saw his Netherlands side fail to qualify for the World Cup this week.

The Dutch went into the final day with the slimmest chance of qualifying, but they needed to beat Sweden by seven goals and, while they did pick up the victory to end the campaign level on points with the Swedes, their winning margin saw them miss out on goal difference.

Four wins from their final five qualifiers kept the hope alive for Netherlands, but the damage had been done by that stage and Van Dijk and co were left to contemplate a second consecutive major tournament on which they will miss out.

CB: Ashley Williams (Wales)

Wales defender Ashley Williams in action during his side's World Cup qualifier with Serbia on November 12, 2016© SilverHub

While Gareth Bale will always be the star of the show for Wales, their run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals was built on an incredible team spirit which was led by captain Ashley Williams.

The Everton centre-back led his country out once again in their crucial Group D match against Republic of Ireland on the final day knowing that only victory would guarantee them a place in at least the playoffs due to the complicated nature of the permutations.

However, Williams himself was involved in a defensive error which allowed James McClean to score the only goal of the game in Cardiff, leaving Wales still waiting for their first World Cup appearance since 1958.

LB: Daley Blind (Netherlands)

Daley Blind has a crouch during the Premier League game between Manchester United and Stoke City on October 2, 2016© SilverHub

It was a particularly strange qualifying campaign for Daley Blind, who saw his own father sacked as Netherlands manager following a 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria in March which left his side's hopes hanging by a thread.

Dick Advocaat came in and steadied the ship with 12 points from the last 15 on offer, but it was not enough after only two wins from their first five qualifiers as Holland fell short on goal difference.

Blind showcased his versatility by switching into midfield for the final-day clash with Sweden, which Netherlands could only win by two when they needed an unlikely seven-goal margin.

CM: Arturo Vidal (Chile)

Bayern Munich's Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal waves prior to the German first division Bundesliga football match FC Bayern Munich vs Hamburger SV at the Allianz Arena in Munich, southern Germany, on August 14, 2015© Getty Images

Suspended for the final-day clash with Brazil, Arturo Vidal was helpless as events conspired to see his Chile side miss out on a place at the World Cup for the first time since 2006.

La Roja went into the final matchday sitting third in the South American standings, but victory for Argentina, a draw between Peru and Colombia and their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Brazil saw them drop three places to finish in sixth - one spot below the playoff place.

Ultimately the Copa America champions paid the price for losing three of their final four qualifiers, ensuring that a team crowned South America's best in both 2015 and 2016 will not be representing the continent in Russia.

CM: Naby Keita (Guinea)

RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita in action during the Emirates Cup match with Sevilla in July 2017© Offside

Guinea are by no means in the same category of the likes of Netherlands and Chile, but with Naby Keita in their ranks they would have hoped to have put up a better fight for World Cup qualification.

The RB Leipzig and future Liverpool midfielder did help his country to the final stage of African qualifying, but in Group A of the third round they have so far only managed three points from five matches.

The African section still has one round of matches to go in November, but Guinea are 10 points behind group leaders Tunisia and can no longer qualify for next summer's tournament.

RW: Arjen Robben (Netherlands)

Netherlands' midfielder Arjen Robben (L) celebrates with Netherlands' midfielder Daley Blind (R) after scoring Netherlands' second goal during the international friendly football match between Wales and Netherlands at Cardiff City Stadium in south Wales o© Getty Images

Holland's failure to qualify for a second major tournament in a row - the first time that has happened since the 1980s - ultimately brought an end to Arjen Robben's international career too, with the winger announcing his retirement shortly after the final whistle of the win over Sweden.

The memory of missing out on the tournament just four years after finishing third in Brazil will be painful, but Robben could at least go out on a relatively high note with two goals in his international swansong - including a stunning second.

Despite Robben's best efforts, though, Netherlands could not get the seven goals they unrealistically needed against Sweden, and the 33-year-old retired having scored 37 times in 96 appearances for his country, helping them to the World Cup final in 2010 in addition to that third-place finish four years later.

CAM: Alexis Sanchez (Chile)

Alexi Sanchez during a Chile training session on March 22, 2016© AFP

At least Alexis Sanchez will have plenty of time to consider his future next summer. The soon-to-be-out-of-contract Arsenal attacker did his best to get Chile to the World Cup, scoring seven goals to trail only Edinson Cavani in the South American qualifying top-scorers list, but ultimately La Roja fell short.

A three-goal margin of defeat to Brazil in Sao Paulo proved costly as other results also went against Chile, just days after Sanchez had kept them in the qualification driving seat with a late winner against Ecuador.

Chile dropped three places on the final day, missing out on a playoff spot due to goal difference as the Copa America champions found themselves contemplating a quiet summer just months after reaching the Confederations Cup final.

LW: Gareth Bale (Wales)

Gareth Bale in action during the World Cup qualifier between Wales and Austria on September 2, 2017© SilverHub

How different might things have been had Wales been able to call upon Gareth Bale at the most crucial time of their qualifying campaign? The Real Madrid winger missed the last two games with a calf injury, and was helpless when watching from the sidelines as they missed out on a playoff spot.

Wales managed without their talisman when picking up a vital win in Georgia, but defeat at home to the Republic of Ireland allowed their Celtic rivals to leapfrog them into the Group D playoff spot in a must-win encounter for both sides.

The Euro 2016 semi-finalists must now wait another four years in their bid to reach a first World Cup since 1958, by which time Bale will be 32 years of age.

CF: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in action during the Champions League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund on September 13, 2017© Offside

Take your pick between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Edin Dzeko - neither of the Ballon d'Or nominees will be gracing the World Cup next summer.

Aubameyang's Gabon side made it all the way to the third qualifying round in the African section, but with one game remaining there is an insurmountable four-point gap separating them from Group C leaders Morocco.

Gabon needed penalties to get past Mozambique in the second round, and it didn't help that their star man failed to score a single goal from his four appearances during the qualifying campaign.

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Netherlands' forward Arjen Robben celebrates after scoring during a Group B football match between Spain and the Netherlands at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 13, 2014
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