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Famous five, all missing in action

Some of the world's best-known footballing names have sadly, missed the World Cup. Here are our top five picks of those M.I.A

india Updated: Jun 09, 2006 15:24 IST

Eric Cantona

Geniuses generally descend upon us with a flaw - a minor imperfection that actually contributes to making them great, a flaw in the mental make-up, maybe a flaw in temperament.

'King Eric', as he was known in Manchester, too had one. He was eccentric, an egoist who had a temperament that could conjure up miracles in United's victories as well as have him crashing against the wall of defiance.

Unlike Ryan Giggs (Wales) or George Best (Northern Ireland), Cantona was fortunate in that he was a Frenchman, because the Les Bleus usually qualify for the finals.

Always is a better word, but in Cantona's case 'usually' is more apt as in 1994, he would have played in the US but for a surprise loss to Bulgaria at home in the final qualification game.

That was 1993, a year before he was named the PFA European Footballer of the Year. With his brilliance on the field, King Eric grew bolder - and more volatile.

Not that it was not in his nature: Even before he attained greatness, he was dropped and banned for a year from the National team in 1988 after comparing coach Henri Mitchel to excreta!

During his tenure in the premier league of France, he had fits of rage that always questioned his temperament. He punched his own team's goalkeeper while playing Auxerre in 1987 and then more shocking episodes in France forced him to retire from the premier league at home and seek fame and fortune in England.

In England he had it all: Fame, name and shame. The 'Kung-fu kick', made famous on the football pitch by Cantona, saw him removed from the helm of the Le Bleus. He never returned to the team.

Ryan Giggs

Till the summer of 2002, his name would not have figured in this column. However, time has wings and takes away youth and speed; Giggs is 32 and with much reluctance, his has been jotted down in this list.

His greatness in the wings of Manchester United (another United player!) has never been in doubt. He is as famous and as talented as David Beckham, if not more. The debate will rage forever, but don't seek a Welshman's opinion.

There's no bigger obsession in Wales than to rave about the ravages of Ryan in the flanks of the Red Devils, over a couple of 'wishkah'. Giggs is one of the few who led an England side as a schoolboy but never could make it into the senior team because his grandparents were Welsh and he was born in Cardiff.

Yet, even as a Welshman, he almost made it to USA 1994 - a missed penalty in a 0-0 draw against Romania at home (Cardiff) dashed his dreams.

George Weah

He is one of the most famous football players to emerge from Africa - a man of such stature that he could even dare to contest the presidential elections in his country, Liberia.

That he lost out in his effort to gain control of his country is another story. That defeat must have been a déjà vu for him - he already knew what it was like to miss out on the big show.

The only African footballer to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year award (1995), when he was with AC Milan, Weah never played for his country in the World Cup, simply because Liberia never qualified for the finals.

George Best

Possibly the biggest, best known name on this list: A legend in Manchester and a lethal weapon with the Red Devils, George Best never got to play on the world's biggest stage.

Northern Ireland, known more for potatoes and revolutions, never qualified for the finals when Best was at his best. Twice the team knocked on the doors of the finals, but failed to get in.

In 1966, the first time when Best's sublime skills took the team to the last qualifying match against Albania (away), they needed a victory to make it into the playoffs against Switzerland. But a draw ended his dream.

Three years later, after he was named Europe's best, Best had another chance. After missing out on an opportunity to score past the Soviets (USSR) at home, Northern Ireland lost 0-2 in their away match.

Best had, however, missed the match with an injury and had to watch his team lose from the sidelines.

Alfredo de Stefano

He is perhaps the only football player who played for three countries - ironically, the best footballer of his generation never played for even one in the World Cup.

An Argentine, De Stefano had an opportunity to represent his country at the World Cup in Brazil in 1950. However, Argentina boycotted the tournament after the FIFA turned down its offer host the tournament.

He then left to play in Columbia before moving to Spain in 1953. He played for Real Madrid and became the highest La Liga goal-scorer with 49 goals - the record broken by Raul in the recent years.

Spain did not qualify for the World Cup in 1958 and in 1962; he was in the squad but could never step onto the field because of injury.