Morata, Hart, Gotze: Big Names Missing at FIFA World Cup 2018
A national team is allowed to take only 23 players to the World Cup. Under such circumstances, national coaches always have to take the harsh measure of omitting big names. This time around too there have been some surprising (and sometimes shocking) absentees from the squads.
Here is a list of six players who are healthy and ready to go but won’t be joining their teams in Russia, to the dismay of some of the fans.
Alvaro Morata (Spain)
Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata was left out of Spain’s 23-player squad for the World Cup on Monday.
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has gone with only three strikers for the tournament in Russia. Diego Costa, Iago Aspas and Rodrigo have made the cut.
“There wasn’t anything negative about (Morata). But we thought there were other players in the position who could help us,” said Lopetegui.
The 25-year-old was acquired by Chelsea for $75 million and managed to score only 11 goals in this season for the London club. After an initial burst, Morata struggled this year and was not included in the squad for Spain’s most recent friendlies but Lopetegui had said the player still had chances of making it to the World Cup.
After his exclusion, Morata took to Twitter to show his support for the Spanish side. He wrote, “Best of luck in the World Cup. I’ll be supporting and cheering through the end, as always.”
Cesc Fàbregas and Marcos Alonso of Chelsea and Sergi Roberto of Barcelona were other big names missing from the World Cup-bound squad.
Joe Hart (England)
Joe Hart has been one of the biggest casualties of Gareth Southgate’s youth revolution in the English squad for the World Cup.
In a widely anticipated move, Southgate selected Jack Butland of Stoke, Jordan Pickford of Everton and Nick Pope of Burnley, ahead of Hart, who has been the starter for England for its last three international tournaments, including the 2014 World Cup.
Hart has also started for England in nine out of the ten World Cup qualifying matches. After losing his place in the City squad, he was loaned to West Ham, where he was again benched by the end of the season.
“In Joe’s case, he’s been England No 1 with 75 caps. I don’t think it would be respectful to say to him, ‘Would you go on standby?’,” said manager Gareth Southgate.
Hart was devastated after the announcement. “Not going to lie, I’m gutted,” Hart wrote on Instagram. “I know what I bring to the team, but it is what it is.”
Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, who had injury problems for the past few years, was another notable omission from the side.
Anthony Martial (France)
French coach Didier Deschamps left out Manchester United forward Anthony Martial from the 23-man World Cup squad last week.
The 22-year-old lost favour at United after Alexis Sánchez was signed and struggled to make a comeback.
Obviously, Antoine Griezmann was always going to be France’s first choice.
Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal was also left off the World Cup roster.
“They (Martial & Lacazette) were good against Germany, but that was only one match; that aside, they were a bit less,” said Deschamps.
Olympique Marseille midfielder Dimitri Payet, who injured his thigh in the Europa League final last week, was another notable omission from the squad.
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema was also absent from the squad. But it was evident as it has been over two years since he was part of the French team after his alleged involvement in the attempted extortion of teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
Mario Gotze (Germany)
It has to be one of the saddest stories of this World Cup. The hero of the final in Brazil, Mario Gotze, who scored the winner for Germany to take them to their fourth title, will not be a part of the squad bound for Russia.
Mario Gotze’s exclusion comes after a difficult last season at the Borussia Dortmund following a string of injuries and fitness problems.
Gotze battled myopathy, a rare muscle disorder, last season, which kept him out for a longer period. But the injury was only one of the setbacks in his career that was going south after his moment under the sun in Brazil.
“It wasn’t his season,” said manager Joachim Low. “He did not show what his qualities are. He just did not have the form.”
There is no dearth of talent in the German squad to replace Gotze at the forward line.
Gotze didn’t hide his dismay when he took to Twitter but at the same time he vowed to make his way back into the team.
Radja Nainggolan (Belgium)
Belgium midfielder Radja Nainggolan was not named in the World Cup squad despite guiding his team AS Roma to the Champions League semi-finals this season.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has long had a difficult relationship with the stormy midfielder but said he left him out purely for tactical reasons. In fact, for the past two years, Martinez never found a starting spot for Nainggolan. The 30-year-old’s off-field indiscipline has also not gone down well with the team management.
According to Martinez, he flew down to Rome to explain Nainggolan’s exclusion in person.
“I don't think Radja is a player to be used in a small role in any group,” Martinez said. “We all know he has a very important role at club level and I don't feel that we can give him that.”
Nainggolan was quick enough to announce his retirement from international football almost immediately after his exclusion.
“Very reluctantly my international career comes to an end,” Nainggolan wrote on his Instagram account.
Youri Tielmans of Monaco and Axel Witsel of Tianjin Quanjian will be playing in his position in Russia.
Mauro Icardi (Argentina)
Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi, the joint-leading scorer in Italy this season, was a omitted from Argentina’s 23-man World Cup squad named by coach Jorge Sampaoli this week.
Icardi scored his 29th Serie A goal of the season on Sunday as Inter pipped Lazio to a Champions League place, but he was one of the 12 players cut from a provisional 35-man squad.
“Those players in the final list are closer to the idea we are implementing. They are closer to the Opposition's goal line than to their own,” said Sampaoli.
Icardi’s exclusion will hardly affect the already star-studded frontline of Argentina which has the likes of Messi, Higuain, Aguero and Dybala.
The 25-year-old made his Argentina debut in October 2013 but spent four years in international exile before he was recalled last September for the final four World Cup qualifiers.
And The Ones Who Failed to Qualify
At this moment the only common thing that connects Gianluigi Buffon, Alexis Sanchez, Gareth Bale and Arjen Robben is that all of them will be missing from the World Cup in Russia after their countries failed to qualify for the tournament.
Buffon had initially planned to retire after the World Cup but Italy's play-off defeat to Sweden made sure that the Italian legend had a premature exit from international football.
Similarly, Wales, Euro 2016 semi-finalists, were pipped to a play-off spot by the Republic of Ireland, which further delayed Bale's World Cup debut.
Moving to South America, Chile’s World Cup dreams were dashed when Peru equalised against Colombia to push the La Roja out of the play-offs and keep Sanchez away from Russia.
A veteran of three World Cups, Arjen Robben won’t be there in Russia as his side failed to qualify. The Dutch immediately announced his retirement.
Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia, Virgil van Dijk from the Netherlands, Italy’s Leonardo Bonucci, Austrian David Alaba, Chile’s Arturo Vidal and Gabon’s Aubameyang will also be missing from action in Russia as their sides failed to qualify.