Moscow: Italian striker Mario Balotelli had tweeted “I cannot wait.” after Italy’s UEFA Euro 2016 draw and his then national coach had mercilessly mocked the striker asking whether he cannot wait to play for the Italian national side or watch it from his home couch Azzurri’s European campaign.
This time around, the Italian striker has no other option but to watch the action from home as Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years. We take a look at the five stars whose absence has left the World Cup poorer.
Gigi Buffon (Italy)
Italy won’t be there at the World Cup, nor Gigi Buffon. The Italian legend called it a day on November 10, 2017, as Italy lost to Sweden 1-0 on aggregate over two legs and Italian media cried ‘Apocalypse.’ The agony on Gigi Buffon’s face brought tears in the eyes of not only Italian fans, but others as well, who knew how much Buffon wanted to play in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Although the world’s most decorated goalkeeper, who some consider as the greatest ever goalkeeper, came back from retirement, he withdrew from the squad for the friendlies which were played in the run-up to the World Cup.
This could eventually mean that the 40-year-old keeper may not wear the Azzurri shirt again and if that in itself is going to make the world of football poorer and, not seeing him at the World Cup just doesn’t sound right.
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Arjen Robben was well inside in his own half when Wesley Sneijder played him a through ball. He allowed to let the ball run as Spaniard Sergio Ramos, who had a head-start tried to sniff out the danger.
But, Robben reached the ball first and from that point on, there was going to be only one winner of that race. Robben took the ball into the box, right in front of Iker Casillas, the man who had denied him World Cup glory in 2010, left him scrambling on the floor, flat full on the face, and thumped the shot into the back of the net to make it 5-1 for the Netherlands.
Arjen Robben on his scooter with all his trickery mesmerised the fans in Brazil as Dutch finished third in the 2014 edition. But since then it has been a downward spiral for the Oranje.
They failed to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2016 and if that wasn’t enough shame for the country which gave total football to the world, they failed to make it to the Russia as well. They finished third in their group behind France and Sweden.
The failure to make it to the second consecutive major tournament resulted in captain Robben hang up his international boots.
Mario Goetze failed to even make it to the preliminary squad of the Germany for the World Cup. It didn’t even create any fuss in the land of the defending champions, everyone kind of knew that he wouldn’t make it this time.
Once touted as the best talent Germany has ever produced, this 26-year-old playmaker is struggling to live up to the potential, especially after scoring the goal that won Germany the 2014 World Cup at the Maracana Stadium in Rio.
Joachim Loew’s recently expressed that he regrets the pep talk he gave to Goetze: “Go, prove the World that you can do better than Messi...”
The German star hasn’t managed to live up to his potential ever since his move to the Bayern Munich. In 2016, he moved back to Borussia Dortmund but injuries and illness kept him out of the action for major part of the past two seasons.
Earlier this year, he briefly rekindled the partnership with Marco Reus, which shot him to the fame, but his performances certainly weren’t enough to earn him a spot in Loew’s team, which settles for nothing but the best.
Alexis Sanchez & Arturo Vidal
Chilean Alexis Sanchez always had the spotlight on him ever since he moved to Arsenal from Barcelona. He was indeed the talisman of Arsenal side despite Gunners performing woefully throughout his stay in London, but he has failed to light up Old Trafford since moving there in January.
Arturo Vidal, another big star of Chile football, was doing his best, to be the midfield general for his club Bayern Munich. Despite the fact that he is a very successful player with the club, meant hardly anything.
Once sitting pretty in qualifying campaign Chile then lost the plot with winless streak towards the end of the campaign and eventually lost the spot to Peru on the goal difference.
Wales made their debut on the big stage in UEFA Euro 2016 and lit up the stage with their run in the semi-finals, where they lost to the eventual winners Portugal, but after such a bright show in Euro, Wales were expected to make it to one more big tournament debut. But they should blame Ireland and their poor outings for finishing third in their group and not making it to Russia.
Gareth Bale, man-of-the-match of 2018 Champions League final on May 26, is one of the biggest name missing from the long list of players who would miss the showpiece event.
Bale, along with his injury woes, hasn’t always found his name in the starting lineup of Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane has had his doubts about the flying winger and rumour mill about him leaving Madrid just keeps on going.
There is no denying the talent Gareth Bale is, he would have for sure lit up the pitches in Russia with his darting runs down the flanks.