The 10 top footballers we will not be seeing at World Cup 2022

The World Cup is the biggest showcase event in football.

It is expected that the game’s biggest names will put on their best performances and help their teams reach new heights while also mesmerising fans.

But some of the football world’s biggest superstars will not be plying their trade at this year’s event in Qatar that kicks off on November 20.

Of the 211 FIFA member nations, only 32 were able to book a spot at the World Cup 2022, causing heartbreak to players such as Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah and Gianluigi Donnarumma as Norway, Egypt and Italy were among the teams which failed to qualify.

Here is a list of 10 players missing from the World Cup  due to their teams’ failure to qualify for the tournament.

A special mention for Paul Pogba, who will miss France’s title defence in Qatar due to injury.

1. Erling Haaland – Norway

Erling Haaland made his international debut at the age of 19, and has scored 21 goals in 23 matches.

However, Haaland, arguably the world’s current best young striker, could only score five goals during the World Cup qualifiers. Norway collected 18 points from its 10 qualification matches and finished third behind the Netherlands and Turkey in the group.

The Manchester City player has been in sensational form this season, becoming the fastest player (nine games) to score 15 goals in the English Premier League.

The 22-year-old has time on his side and will have plenty of opportunities to make up for missing out in 2022.

Norway’s Haaland has taken the Premier League by storm this season [Jure Makovec/AFP]

2. Mohamed Salah – Egypt

“I might be in Qatar during the World Cup,” Egypt’s Mohamed Salah told a television channel back in August.

However, one of the biggest stars of the football world will not be on the pitch during the Middle East’s first World Cup as his country failed to qualify for the tournament.

Egypt and Salah were on the wrong side of a penalty shootout against Senegal twice in the space of two months.

First, they lost the Africa Cup of Nations final in February. Then came the World Cup qualification playoff, which went to a penalty shootout after two legs.

Salah’s kick from the spot sailed over the goal as Egypt lost 3-1 on penalties.

Salah’s appearance at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was hampered by injury, and he failed to take his team past the group stages.

At 30, it remains to be seen if Salah can make an attempt to play another World Cup.

Salah
Salah’s Egypt lost to Senegal on penalties in the World Cup qualfier [Khaled Desouki/AFP]

3. David Alaba – Austria

David Alaba won his third Austrian sports personality of the year award this year, in addition to his eight Austrian Footballer of the Year awards, and the quadruple with Real Madrid in the 2021-22 season.

Despite being arguably Austria’s best footballer over the past decade, the former Bayern Munich defender has not played a World Cup as his country has not qualified for the tournament since 1998.

The 30-year-old, who has also captained Austria, was part of the starting XI when his side played Wales in their Nations League playoff tie in March. Austria’s disappointing run in the qualification process, with five wins from their 10 games, ended in a 2-1 loss in Cardiff.

The Real Madrid defender has made 96 international appearances for Austria, and has scored 14 goals.

Alaba
Alaba played a massive role in Real Madrid’s Champions League win last year [Joe Klamar/AFP]

4. Riyad Mahrez  – Algeria

Winner of the CAF African Footballer of the Year award in 2016, the Africa Cup of Nations in 2016, and the Premier League with two different clubs, Riyad Mahrez has been consistently one of the best players from Africa in recent years.

The France-born winger was part of Algeria’s 2014 World Cup squad but made little impact. His team failed to qualify for the 2018 edition but were on the verge of making it to Qatar until a late Cameroon goal knocked them out in extra time of their playoff tie.

Algeria’s absence in Qatar could bring an end to Mahrez’s hopes of playing another World Cup as he will be 35 in four years.

Mahrez
Algeria’s forward Riyad Mahrez hasn’t featured in the World Cup since 2014 [Charly Triballeau/AFP]

5. Martin Odegaard – Norway

A leader on the pitch for club and country at the age of 23, Martin Odegaard’s journey from youth to professional football has been swift.

The Norwegian made his professional league debut at the age of 15 and became the youngest goal-scorer in his country’s premier league. He was snapped up by Real Madrid a year later but kept moving between Spain and the Netherlands before finally making himself at home in London with Arsenal.

Odegaard has been regarded as one of the best young talents and it was no surprise that he broke the record for the youngest debutant for Norway’s senior side at the age of 15. The midfielder has been praised for his vision with the ball at his feet, his precision with set pieces and ability to create space.

However, his leadership and talent were not enough to see his side through to the World Cup. Norway finished third in their group. With the talent of Odegaard, Haaland and others at their disposal, it was a surprising result.

odegaard
Norway midfielder Odegaard was named Arsenal captain this season [Jure Makovec/AFP]

6. Gianluigi Donnarumma – Italy

When Gianluigi Buffon quit international football, Italy had little trouble finding his successor. Not only did Gianluigi Donnarumma replace his namesake and idol with confidence, he established himself as the best young goalkeeper in the world.

Donnarumma made his professional debut for AC Milan in 2015, and cemented his place in the starting XI the following year. in 2021, he moved to Paris St-Germain.

Just as Buffon’s career was ending, Donnarumma began establishing himself as a worthy successor. He replaced Buffon in a match in 2016, becoming the youngest goalkeeper to play for Italy at the age of 17 years.

Donnarumma was named the UEFA Player of the Tournament in the Euro 2020 championship (played in 2021) for his crucial role in helping Italy win the trophy.

Italy’s failure to qualify for yet another World Cup means that Donnarumma will have to wait at least another four years before making his World Cup debut.

donnarumma
Gianluigi Donnarumma was one of Italy’s star performers at the Euros last year [Daniele Mascolo/Reuters]

7. Franck Kessie – Ivory Coast

Unlike other breakout stars from Africa, Franck Kessie’s journey to the top of European club football did not begin at an early age.

The Ivorian played club football in his home country until the age of 18 before making a move to Italy with Atalanta. Once in Italy, he made his mark upon joining AC Milan where he made 223 appearances and scored 37 goals in five seasons. Kessie became a fan favourite and was found among them after scoring his last goal for the club at the end of the 2021-22 season.

When Kessie left Milan for Barcelona, it was seen as a loss for the Italian side as he played an important role in bringing Milan back to the top of Italian football.

Kessie made his Ivory Coast debut at the age of 17 and has scored seven goals in 60 international games.  While he hasn’t played many big tournaments for the Elephants, he was the joint top-assist provider in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations where his side was knocked out in the quarter-finals.

Ivory Coast’s qualification for the 2022 World Cup was on the line until their last match against Cameroon. A win or draw would have landed the Elephants in Qatar, but they were unable to score and a 21st-minute goal confirmed Cameroon’s qualification and brought heartache for Kessie and his team.

Kessie
Franck Kessie moved to Barcelona from AC Milan this summer (AFP)

8. Luis Diaz – Colombia

One of the biggest stars, and the joint leading goal-scorer of the 2021 Copa America, Luis Diaz has swiftly become the poster boy of Colombian football. He has scored eight goals in 37 appearances since his international debut in 2018.

However, Diaz will not be able to put his talent on display in Qatar as Colombia failed to qualify for Qatar 2022 after finishing sixth in the CONMEBOL standings. The 25-year-old Liverpool winger showed his despair in a Twitter post following Colombia’s last match in the qualification stage.

“Since I was little I dreamed of wearing this shirt and wearing it with pride in a World Cup. It hurts too much not to have achieved it. I keep wanting to fight for this dream, on my part you will have my commitment and know that I will leave everything to achieve that goal. We will have revenge.”

Diaz will have to wait another four years to see if he can live his dream.

diaz
Luis Diaz was the joint top scorer at the Copa America 2021 [Thearon W Henderson/Getty]

9. Marco Verratti – Italy

Marco Verratti has been considered one of the best midfielders in the world since he was named the best player of the Italian second division in 2011-12. He was snapped up by PSG the following season, and was swiftly named the best young player in Ligue 1.

Soon after his rise in club football, Verratti made his international debut for Italy at the age of 20, but injuries and Italy’s poor performance in the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 kept him away from top international action.

Verratti was the main cog in Roberto Mancini’s midfield for Italy’s triumphant run at Euro 2020, where he finished with 93 percent passing accuracy.

Italy’s shock defeat at the hands of North Macedonia will keep Verratti and co away from Qatar.

veratti
Verratti is widely recognised as one of the best midfielders in the world [Maciej Gillert/Shutterstock]

10. Victor Osimhen – Nigeria

Victor Osimhen is a promising young striker from Nigeria, a Golden Boot winner at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015, and the leader of Napoli’s attack in Serie A.

The 23-year-old from Lagos has quickly established himself among the top strikers in Italian football, scoring 30 goals in 68 appearances for the club since 2020. Prior to playing in Italy, Osimhen played for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga.

The Super Eagles’ player came to the limelight for the first time when he struck an astonishing 10 goals, six more than the second best, in the U-17 World Cup and helped Nigeria win the trophy for a record fifth time.

Since his debut for the senior side, Osimhen has scored 15 goals in 22 appearances.

Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup will deny Osimhen the opportunity to put his talent on display at the biggest football event. However, with age on his side, the young striker will surely have a chance of playing at another World Cup should his side qualify.

osimhen
Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen is one of the most exciting strikers in the world [Pius Utomi Ekpie/AFP]

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