Mohamed Salah has been one of the world’s best players this season. Erling Haaland is possibly the most highly rated youngster in the game.
Gianluigi Donnarumma was voted the best player at last summer’s European Championship. And what else is there to say about Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
What links all these stars? None of them will be playing at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Qualification for the tournament is drawing to a close and there are several high-profile players who already know they’ll be missing soccer’s biggest event over November and December.
Here’s a look at some of them:
MOHAMED SALAH (Egypt)
His missed penalty contributed to Egypt’s shootout loss to Senegal in African qualifying and video footage showed him being shielded from objects thrown at him as he left the field. It was a sad way to end another disappointing episode in an international career that has yet to yield any silverware. Salah went into the 2018 World Cup carrying a shoulder injury and wasn’t at his best as the Egyptians exited at the group stage. He has lost in the final of two African Cup of Nations tournaments, including in one this year, and now he won’t be at the World Cup taking place when he’s at the peak of his powers. For now, the 29-year-old Salah will have to settle for winning titles with Liverpool, for whom he is spearheading an unlikely bid for a quadruple of trophies this season.
ERLING HAALAND (Norway)
An injured Haaland could only watch from the sidelines last November as Norway lost to the Netherlands in their final qualifying match and finished third in the group. Norway last played in the World Cup in 1998 and Haaland’s goals had led his country to the brink of ending its lengthy wait. The 21-year-old striker rivals Kylian Mbappé as the most exciting young attacker in the world and it remains to be seen whether he will still be at Borussia Dortmund by the time the World Cup comes around, since he has become one of the most sought-after players in Europe. Haaland is once again Dortmund’s top scorer this season, with 16 goals in 17 league matches, despite missing chunks of the season through injury.
ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (Sweden)
Ibrahimović came out of international retirement in early 2021 with the aim of playing at the European Championship. He ultimately missed that because of injury and couldn’t help Sweden qualify for the World Cup after being brought on for the final 10 minutes of the playoff final defeat to Poland, with his team already 2-0 down. Ibrahimović was not fully fit following a recent injury, one of several that have caused the 40-year-old striker to miss portions of the season at AC Milan. He looks set to sign on for another year with Milan but the tournament in Qatar was surely his last chance of playing in a World Cup. He might still harbor hopes of playing at Euro 2024, though, after saying he remains available to Sweden.
GIANLUIGI DONNARUMMA (Italy)
Named player of Euro 2020 after starring in Italy’s penalty shootout in the final against England, the Italy goalkeeper also helped the Azzurri set a world record of 1,168 minutes without conceding. But, just like the Italy team, he has since shown a marked decline since and has lost a regular playing spot at club level this season following a move from AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain. An error from Donnarumma helped Real Madrid eliminate PSG from the Champions League and the 23-year-old keeper also drew plenty of criticism for North Macedonia’s late goal that saw Italy fail to qualify for the World Cup for a second straight time. Jorginho, third in the voting for the world player of the year, is also among the Italians who’ll be absent.
LUIS DIAZ (Colombia)
The 25-year-old Liverpool winger has taken over from James Rodriguez as the standout for Colombia and was tied with Lionel Messi as the top scorer in the Copa America last year. He couldn’t inspire his team to qualify for the World Cup, though, with Colombia finishing in sixth place in South American qualifying. His club career remains on the rise after moving to Liverpool from Porto in January and making a seamless transition into the star-studded attack of the Premier League team.
RIYAD MAHREZ (Algeria)
Mahrez, a former African player of the year, was part of the Algeria team that conceded in the fourth minute of stoppage time against Cameroon on Tuesday to miss out on qualification. The Manchester City winger will have to wait at least four years for another appearance at the World Cup. He went as an inexperienced 23-year-old player to the 2014 tournament in Brazil and started Algeria’s opening match against Belgium.
JAN OBLAK (Slovenia)
To many, Oblak is the best goalkeeper in the world, although most of the widespread acclaim toward him stems from his performances at club level for Atlético Madrid. Will he ever play at a World Cup? Slovenia last reached one in 2010 and missed out this time after finishing fourth in its qualifying group. At age 29, Oblak likely has a couple more chances left.
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