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World Cup 2022: Haaland, Salah & the megastars who won't be going to Qatar

18:50 GMT+3 03/11/2022
World Cup Missing Stars GFX
The sense of anticipation is building ahead of Qatar 2022, but some of the game's best players will be absent...

Thirty-two nations will compete for the World Cup trophy when the tournament kicks off in the winter for the first time ever, with reigning champions France set to face stiff competition from the likes of Brazil, Spain, Argentina and Belgium in their pursuit of back-to-back titles.

England are also among the favourites, while household names such as Portugal and Netherlands have been billed as dark horses, but not all of the traditionally strongest nations will be present in Qatar.

Euro 2020 winners Italy were expected to return to the biggest stage after failing to qualify for Russia 2018. However, Roberto Mancini's men let their tickets slip after suffering a humiliating playoff defeat to North Macedonia.

Sweden, Colombia, Chile, Nigeria and Egypt also fell short, and then there's the fact that some of the qualifiers are starting to lose key players to injuries in the run-up to the big kick-off on November 20.

Indeed, below, GOAL takes a look at the most notable absentees, including a certain in-form Manchester City frontman...

  • David Alaba Austria 2022

    David Alaba - Austria

    David Alaba is revered as one of the greatest Austrian players of all time, having won everything there is to win at club level while also amassing 96 caps on the international stage.

    The Real Madrid defender has never appeared in the World Cup finals, though, and Austria's latest qualification bid was scuppered by Wales in the European play-offs.

    Alaba will be 33 when the next tournament rolls around, with a new expanded format of 48 teams set to be debuted in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

    He will surely be past his peak by then, though, and may not even be a guaranteed starter as the next generation of Austrian talent continues to come through.

  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Gabon Afrika Cup 18012017

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - Gabon

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's hopes of appearing in a World Cup at least once in his career now appear to be well and truly over.

    The 32-year-old scored twice during the CAF group stage but Gabon finished a distant second to Egypt, who progressed to the play-offs with the minimum of fuss.

    Aubameyang, then, is going to have to just content himself with trying to finish his club career with a flourish after the former Arsenal forward returned to London from Barcelona during the summer to join Chelsea.


    Giorgio Chiellini - Italy

    Giorgio Chiellini was almost at a loss for words after Italy's shock 1-0 loss to North Macedonia, admitting he was "crushed" by his nation's failure to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup.

    It's easy to understand why. The veteran centre-back knew he'd never get another chance to take to the game's greatest stage and he called time on his international career just a couple of months later.

    That's good news for forwards all over the world, of course, but a blow for neutrals, who felt one of the great defenders of the modern era deserved to bow out in Qatar.

  • Luis Diaz Colombia 2021

    Luis Diaz - Colombia

    Luis Diaz has been an instant hit at Anfield since joining Liverpool from Porto in January.

    The all-action winger helped the Reds win the FA Cup and League Cup in his first few months at the club, quickly becoming a fixture in Jurgen Klopp's front three following the departure of Sadio Mane.

    Despite a recent injury, Diaz's club future certainly seems to be bright, but he is part of a squad very much in transition on the international stage.

    Colombia reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2014 and the second round four years later, with global stars such as James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao leading their charge.

    However, they could only manage a sixth-place finish in the 10-team CONMEBOL qualification process this time around, with Diaz unable to carry their hopes on his shoulders alone.

  • Donnarumma-Italy

    Gianluigi Donnarumma - Italy

    Italy's No.1 goalkeeper was colossal during their successful Euro 2020 campaign, playing 719 minutes in total – more than any other player.

    Donnarumma was even presented with the player of the tournament award, having saved three penalties across the Azzurri's semi-final and final shootout wins over Spain and England.

    At club level, he has now usurped Keylor Navas as PSG's first-choice shot-stopper after a season-long battle and, at just 23, the best is still to come from the Italy star.

    However, his awesome reflexes won't be seen in Qatar after his country's qualification fumble – much to the delight of those being tipped to challenge for the coveted World Cup Golden Boot award.

  • Erling Haaland Norway

    Erling Haaland - Norway

    Haaland was already considered among the best strikers in Europe, but his stock has skyrocketed since his £51 million ($54m) move to City from Borussia Dortmund in the summer.

    The Norwegian has instantly silenced the critics that suggested he would struggle to make an impact in the Premier League, scoring 17 goals in his first 11 appearances.

    He has also struck five times in the Champions League, becoming the fastest man to reach 25 career goals in the competition in the process, but it's the 22-year-old's international record that best illustrates his superstar standing.

    Haaland has hit 21 goals in 23 games for Norway, who have only featured in three World Cups, with their last appearance coming in 1998.

    Norway's prospects have improved recently due to Haaland's presence, but he missed a large chunk of their latest World Cup qualification campaign due to injury, and they ended up third in their group behind the Netherlands and Turkey.

    Haaland will be missed by most neutral fans in Qatar, but defenders will likely be relieved that they won't be forced to stand in the way of City's new juggernaut.

  • Zlatan-Sweden-WC-playoff

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Sweden

    One man who will almost certainly never grace a World Cup stage again is Milan's veteran centre-forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    The 41-year-old appeared in two World Cups before retiring from international duty with Sweden in 2016 but returned last year in a bid to help them qualify for Qatar.

    Sweden ultimately fell short as Ibrahimovic was restricted to a cameo role off the bench in their play-off loss to Poland.

    The towering striker is, therefore, destined to finish his career with a record of no goals from five World Cup games, and supporters in Qatar have been deprived of seeing a final swansong for one of football's most polarising figures.

  • N'Golo Kante France Denmark 2022

    N'Golo Kante - France

    N'Golo Kante, another midfield stalwart of France, is set to miss the World Cup after suffering a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury. It has forced him to undergo surgery and it's expected he will be out until well into the new year.

    He has not featured for Chelsea since the second Premier League game of the season, on August 14.

    "The midfielder visited a specialist with the club’s medical department to explore the options for his rehabilitation approach and it was mutually agreed for N’Golo to have surgery to repair the damage," read a club statement. "Following a successful operation, N’Golo is now expected to be sidelined for four months.”

    The midfielder will not only miss the World Cup but is also likely to miss all the fixtures in the first two months of 2023. He will be targeting a comeback for the second leg of the round of 16 in the Champions League, which is scheduled to take place in the first week of March.

  • Franck Kessie Ivory Coast Afcon 2022

    Franck Kessie - Ivory Coast

    Ivory Coast were denied a place in the CAF play-offs after being beaten 1-0 by Cameroon in their final group-stage fixture.

    That means no trip to Qatar for the likes of Jeremie Boga, Nicolas Pepe, Sebastien Haller and Wilfried Zaha.

    Franck Kessie, though, was arguably best equipped to make his considerable presence felt on the international stage.

    The former AC Milan ace will instead focus on nailing down a regular place in Barcelona's midfield.

  • Riyad Mahrez Algeria Cameroon 2022 World Cup play-offs

    Riyad Mahrez - Algeria

    Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez top-scored for Algeria with five goals as they reached the CAF play-offs by pipping Burkina Faso to top spot in Group A.

    However, after a 1-0 win in Cameroon, the north Africans were then sensationally upset in the second leg, losing 2-1 in Blida to miss out on World Cup qualification on the away-goals rule.

    With Mahrez now 31, Algeria's captain may never get the opportunity to add to the 72 minutes of World Cup game time he saw at Brazil 2014.

  • Jan Oblak Slovenia

    Jan Oblak - Slovenia

    Goalkeepers can't change games by themselves, but they can provide the platform on which great teams are built.

    Jan Oblak has played that role for Atletico Madrid since 2014, emerging as one of the best in the business when it comes to commanding his box and blending agility between the posts with strength in collecting crosses and outmanoeuvring forwards while under pressure.

    The 29-year-old has also won 52 caps for Slovenia, who have just one win to their name from two World Cup finals outings.

    Oblak has kept 23 clean sheets for his country to date, giving an unfancied side the impetus to compete with the top nations with a counter-attacking style that he usually kick-starts.

    It wasn't enough to help Slovenia qualify for Qatar, however, with Oblak's World Cup dream now fading into the distance as he edges towards his 30s.

  • Odegaard-Norway

    Martin Odegaard - Norway

    The second Norwegian on the list, and a man that probably doesn't deserve to sit in the shadow of Haaland, is Martin Odegaard – Arsenal's ever-improving captain fantastic.

    The former Real Madrid starlet never made the grade at Santiago Bernabeu, but he is now living up to his world-class potential at Emirates Stadium.

    Arsenal have risen to the top of the Premier League with Odegaard pulling the strings in midfield, to which he has added a much-needed creative spark while also bringing bags of experience.

    The 23-year-old's international exploits have helped him mature quickly, as he has picked up 45 caps for Norway since becoming their youngest ever player at the age of 15 back in 2014.

    Odegaard was also made captain of his country last year, but he will have to wait for his shot at the big time.

    Will Odegaard lead Norway to the 2026 World Cup as potential underdogs to go into the latter rounds? Watch this space...

  • Victor Osimhen Nigeria

    Victor Osimhen - Nigeria

    Qatar could have been a breakout tournament for Osimhen, who has scored 36 goals in 72 games for Napoli since his arrival from Lille in the summer of 2020.

    The 23-year-old's international record is even more impressive as he's found the net 15 times through 22 appearances for Nigeria, but the Super Eagles will be sitting out the World Cup for only the second time since 1994, having lost to Ghana on away goals in Africa's World Cup qualification play-offs in March.

    Osimhen is reportedly now valued in excess of €100 million (£90m/$97m) by Napoli and has been linked with a number of top clubs, including Manchester United and Liverpool.

    It's fair to say, then, that the tournament will be worse off for the absence of one of Africa's brightest young talents.

  • Paul Pogba France

    Paul Pogba - France

    Paul Pogba's agent, Rafaela Pimenta, has confirmed that he will miss the World Cup after picking up a thigh injury in Juventus training.

    Upon making his return to Juventus in the summer, Pogba suffered a knee injury in pre-season and has spent the time since recovering from surgery.

    The midfielder had been closing in on a return in previous weeks, with one eye on Qatar, but will now miss the tournament in which he proved integral to helping France win in 2018.

    Pimenta has said of Pogba's recovery: "Paul would like to return as quickly as he can but he has to arm himself with patience, work hard in these difficult times, and give his best to be back on the pitch for the fans and his team as soon as possible.''

  • Andy Robertson - Scotland 2022

    Andrew Robertson - Scotland

    Andy Robertson's Scotland made it to a play-off semi-final this time around, only to lose 3-1 against a war-torn Ukraine at Hampden in a contest that saw the whole of Europe rally around the visitors.

    The Scots have now been absent from the World Cup for 24 years, and although they will have a strong chance of making it to the expanded 2026 tournament, their Liverpool left-back aptly summed up the frustration within the camp.

    "It's hugely disappointing as we've waited a long time for this game. Our performances beforehand were really good but, to be honest, we didn't really show up," he said.

    Given the key role he played in Liverpool's success under Jurgen Klopp, Robertson deserved to grace the game's grandest stage.

  • Mohamed Salah Egypt 2021-22

    Mohamed Salah - Egypt

    Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah has been the scourge of Premier League and Champions League defences for the best part of the last five years.

    He has also scored an impressive 49 goals in 86 outings at international level, but the Egyptian king will not be showcasing his talents at the first-ever World Cup on Arab soil.

    Salah lost his shooting boots at the worst possible time as Egypt followed up their Africa Cup of Nations final defeat to Senegal with another penalty shoot-out loss to their rivals in a World Cup qualifying play-off.

    Egypt flopped at Russia 2018 as a barely-fit Salah only scored once during their failed group-stage campaign, and he would have surely been eyeing a redemption arc in Qatar.

    However, he will now have to wait another four years before potentially getting a final chance to leave a real impression on the tournament.

  • Milan Skriniar Slovakia Russia 2022 World Cup qualifiers

    Milan Skriniar - Slovakia

    Slovakia may have finished third in their UEFA qualifying group but they didn't really come close to securing even a play-off berth.

    It's a shame for Milan Skriniar, who played every minute of his nation's unsuccessful campaign.

    The much-coveted Inter defender is widely regarded as one of the finest centre-backs in the game today but the 27-year-old may never get the chance to compete in a World Cup.

  • Marco Verratti Italy North Macedonia 2022

    Marco Verratti - Italy

    Paris Saint-Germain and Italy both benefit from the presence of a diminutive genius in the middle of the park – a player capable of dictating proceedings with his exceptional passing range and snuffing out attacks at will with his ability to read the game.

    Marco Verratti's quality was on full display during Italy's run to glory at the last European Championship, most notably in their final victory over England.

    Verratti was at the centre of everything for the Azzurri before his substitution in extra-time, posting joint-best stats for successful tackles and ball recoveries to limit England to a competition-low possession percentage.

    The 29-year-old has much in common with a yapping terrier given his boundless energy and penchant for snapping at the opposition's heels, but not even he could prevent Italy from crashing out of World Cup qualifying at the hands of minnows North Macedonia.

  • Timo Werner Germany Hungary Nations League 23092022

    Timo Werner

    Timo Werner may have struggled at Chelsea but the jet-heeled forward was looking more like his old self after returning to RB Leipzig during the summer.

    Indeed, the 26-year-old had racked up nine goals in 16 appearances in all competitions before suffering ankle ligament damage in a Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk that ruled him out of the World Cup.

    It's undeniably a massive blow for Germany, given Werner has netted 24 times in 55 appearances for his country.

    Hansi Flick will miss both Turbo Tim's pace and his goal threat. Werner would have been an excellent option up front, out wide or even off the bench against tiring legs.