Sports Journalist at FST, Gareth qualified as a journalist after graduating from university and spent over a decade as a freelance broadcast journalist, commentator and tipster before joining FST. Now living in Manchester, he is a long suffering Bolton Wanderers fan who also enjoys boxing, the NBA, tennis and rugby league.
Qualifying for this year’s World Cup in Qatar comes into focus this week and here at FST we’ve been thinking about all the stars who could miss out on the international showpiece.
In Europe, either European champions Italy or Portugal won’t be involved as they will meet in the Path C final if both win their semi-finals against North Macedonia and Turkey respectively.
Unsurprisingly, both of those nations are heavily represented in this best XI of players in danger of missing Qatar. We’ve also included an England defender who could be omitted from Gareth Southgate’s squad, a multiple Ballon d’Or winner and a few of the best forwards in world football.
FST’s Potential World Cup Absentees Best XI
GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)
Gianluigi Donnarumma may not be having a vintage season with Paris Saint-Germain, but there can be no denying that the 23-year-old is right up there with the best custodians in the world right now.
Donnarumma won the Player of the Tournament award as Italy won Euro 2020 but the former AC Milan shot-stopper could well be absent from Qatar if the Azzurri fall short.
LB: David Alaba (Austria)
The left-back spot was a close call between Liverpool’s Scottish international Andrew Robertson and David Alaba of Austria and there is a chance these sides could meet in the European Path A final.
This was probably the hardest call in the list but Alaba edges it simply on the basis he has played more games for Austria (91 to Robertson’s 55 for Scotland) and has scored more international goals.
CB: Giorgio Chiellini (Italy)
We could, and perhaps should, have selected Italian pair Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in the two centre-half roles but if we’re only taking one the latter edges it. Both play for Juventus, both have 114 caps and eight goals to their name but Chiellini is the skipper.
At 37, this will almost certainly be Chiellini’s last World Cup should Italy make it to the main event and at 34 Bonucci may have another shot, so that impacted the decision too.
CB: Ruben Dias (Portugal)
Manchester City’s Ruben Dias has been among the best centre-halves in the Premier League this season but he won’t be gracing the World Cup if Portugal fail to qualify.
RB: Kieran Trippier (England)
Full disclosure, Joao Cancelo should have the right-back berth here but we set an unofficial rule of no more than three players per-country, otherwise this list may well have been a combined best XI of Italy and Portugal – and that’s no fun at all.
England have qualified for the World Cup but Trippier could find himself missing out on a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad. The Three Lions are blessed with a plethora of options at right-back and Trippier was already about third or fourth in the pecking order before he picked up an injury that hampers his chances even further.
Mid: Tomas Soucek (Czech Republic)
Midfielder Tomas Soucek is having a fine season for West Ham and has been a key man in their Europa League run and their bid for a top four finish. Reaching the World Cup with the Czech Republic would cap off a fine year for Soucek but first they need to beat Sweden and then Poland in European Path B qualifying.
Mid: Jorginho (Italy)
Chelsea midfielder Jorginho is our final representative from Italy. The 30-year-old, who finished third in the Ballon d’Or voting last year, has won plenty of silverware with club and country but the World Cup has so far proven elusive, and it remains to be seen as to whether or not he’ll get a chance this year.
Mid: Bernardo Silva (Portugal)
Manchester City star Bernardo Silva could miss out for Portugal and we’ve opted for him ahead of international team-mate Bruno Fernandes for a spot in our midfield. Silva has had a better season domestically than Fernandes, and had a better tournament at Euro 2020 so that gives him the edge.
FW: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
There are five African spots available for World Cup 2022 and either Egypt or Senegal will miss out as they have been drawn against each other. That pits Liverpool pair Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane up against each other yet again after this year’s AFCON final.
Salah gets his name on our list on the basis we think he is the better player of the two, and we also feel Senegal are the more likely of the two teams to qualify ahead of their qualifying double-header this month so we’re expecting Mane to feature in Qatar.
FW: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Robert Lewandowski is arguably the best out-and-out striker in world football right now and you could make an argument for him being the best of all time. Poland are into the European Path B final after semi-final opponents Russia were banned from competing, and they will face either Sweden or the Czech Republic for a place in the tournament proper.
FW: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
This year’s World Cup could well be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last international tournament but the 37-year-old won’t even be heading to Qatar if Portugal fail to qualify. Ronaldo has scored a record 115 goals in 184 games for Portugal and it is almost unthinkable to imagine a major tournament without him, but his country have a few tough hurdles to overcome if they are to compete in the main event later this year.
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