Missing in action at World Cup: a plethora of club standouts
June 6, 2018
ROME — The man who scored the winning goal in the last World Cup.
The best young player in the English Premier League.
A striker who scored a total of 53 goals in Serie A the last two seasons.
Mario Goetze, Leroy Sane and Mauro Icardi have achieved plenty in their careers. But they won't be achieving anything at the upcoming World Cup. Along with the likes of Alvaro Morata and Adrien Rabiot, they belong to a group of elite players left off their national team squads.
There are plenty more players who won't be traveling to Russia for a different reason — their teams didn't qualify.
"I'm going to go as far away as possible — where the time difference will force me to watch the least amount of matches possible," said defender Giorgio Chiellini, a member of four-time champion Italy, which failed to qualify for the first time in six decades.
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Having scored the winning goal in Germany's 1-0 extra-time victory over Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final, Goetze seemed on top of the world.
But after a move back to Borussia Dortmund, an illness and a poor season resulted in coach Joachim Loew leaving Goetze out.
"It wasn't his best season. He wasn't able to show his incredible quality. Personally, I'm very sorry for him," Loew said.
The 22-year-old winger, who won the Premier League title with Manchester City and was voted young player of the year by the Professional Footballers' Association, was also left home by Loew.
Sane scored 10 goals and created another 15 in 32 appearances for City.
But Sane has only appeared 12 times for Germany and is yet to score for the national team.
"Maybe he has not fully arrived in the national team games. Maybe that tipped the balance," Loew said.
Icardi's omission seems a result not only of Argentina's wealth of strikers but also a personality issue.
The Inter Milan captain has often clashed with his fellow national team members.
And blessed with the likes of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala, coach Jorge Sampaoli apparently felt like there was no need to risk including Icardi.
Recent struggles at Chelsea were the main reason that Spain coach Julen Lopetegui left the highly regarded striker out.
"It's always a difficult decision," Lopetegui said. "There wasn't anything negative about (Morata). But we thought there were other players in the position who could help us."
The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder had a slim chance of going to Russia — until he asked to be taken off a list of reserve players for France.
"I was obviously surprised," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "I can understand his immense disappointment but I'm convinced he made a huge mistake. "
The legendary Italy goalkeeper had a chance to match the World Cup record with a sixth appearance in the tournament — until the Azzurri lost a playoff to Sweden.
The 40-year-old Buffon bid a tearful goodbye to the national team after the playoff but then returned for a pair of friendlies and now may continue his club career elsewhere after leaving Juventus.
Buffon has played in the last four World Cups and was an unused backup in the 1998 tournament. If he keeps playing, perhaps he can match Mexico's Antonio Carbajal and Germany's Lothar Matthaus by playing in a fifth World Cup in 2022 — and gain the outright record by traveling to his sixth tournament.
No such list is complete without the superstar striker now with the LA Galaxy.
The 36-year-old Ibrahimovic retired from Sweden's national team after the 2016 European Championship.
Despite speculation that he might return in Russia, Ibrahimovic resisted the temptation.