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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

FIFA World Cup: Biggest missing links on football’s premier stage

A host of club superstars have not played the FIFA World Cup. Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale will be the biggest absentee in Russia.

football Updated: May 28, 2018 20:45 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
With Wales failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia, Real Madrid star Gareth Bale joins a list of other greats to have never played at the tournament.
With Wales failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia, Real Madrid star Gareth Bale joins a list of other greats to have never played at the tournament. (Getty Images)

On the verge of being an European champion with Real Madrid for the fourth time in five seasons, it would be an understatement to say that Gareth Bale has had a fairly successful stint with Los Blancos. Despite his injuries, Bale has had solid contribution to Real’s European conquests.

Two years back, Bale followed up his Champions League success with prolific showings for Wales as they surprisingly reached the semi-finals of the 2016 European Championship. This summer, however, the talismanic winger won’t be seen strutting his stuff in Russia.

READ MORE | Xavi Hernandez signs on for two more years with Qatar club Al Sadd

With Wales failing to qualify for the World Cup, Bale joins a list of other greats to have never played at the tournament. He, of course, will have a shot at erasing his name off it in four years’ time, but he will be approaching 33 by then and it remains to be seen if Wales remain strong enough to qualify for Qatar 2022.

Bale’s new national team coach, Ryan Giggs, will be able to empathise with him.

At Manchester United, under Alex Ferguson, Giggs rarely had seasons when the club failed to win a major trophy. Thirteen league titles, two Champions League crowns and a host of other titles made him one of the world’s most decorated footballers.

READ MORE | England’s Raheem Sterling ready to hit the gold standard in 2018 FIFA World Cup

Such level of success was impossible to replicate with perennial underdogs Wales, as Giggs found out. It was a similar fate to that of Ian Rush, Giggs’ senior teammate in Wales during the United winger’s younger years.

Rush had won five league titles and two European Cups, among other trophies with Liverpool, but Wales couldn’t make it to a major tournament.

International football has been a tough terrain to conquer for some of the sport’s most prominent faces. In 1993, Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew inspired Marseille to an unprecedented Champions League triumph, the only occasion a French club became European champions. But while Ayew tasted international success with Ghana at the African Cup of Nations, the country couldn’t make the World Cup grade during his career.

READ MORE | Belgium seek to match potential with good performance in FIFA World Cup 2018

Former Germany midfielder Berndt Schuster is another great to have never played in football’s showpiece. His absence, however, had less to do with the country’s football prowess. At the age of 24, Schuster quit international football due to disagreements with the country’s governing body, subsequently missing out on Germany’s 1986 and 1990 World Cup campaigns. When the tournament reaches Qatar, Bale will be hoping to make his way out of the ill-fated list.

Crown without the jewels
Gareth Bale
Country: Wales
Notable clubs: Tottenham Hotspur (2007-2013), Real Madrid (2013-present)
Major club titles won: UEFA Champions League (2013-14, 2015-16, 2016-17), La Liga, (2016-17), FIFA Club World Cup (2014, 2017)
Despite his successes with Real Madrid, he has never played at a World Cup, and with the Welshman set to approach 33 by in four years, it remains to be seen if he manages to get a shot at the biggest tournament in world football. He, however, did manage to lead the national team to an unprecedented semi-final appearance at the 2016 European Championship.
Valentino Mazzola
Country: Italy
Notable clubs: Torino (1942-1949)
Major club titles won: Serie A (1942-43, 1944-45, 1946-47, 1947-48, 1948-49)
Considered the world’s best club then, Grande Torino won five Serie A titles in the 40s. The team was led by Valentino Mazzola, who along with most of his squad died in the Superga air disaster in 1949. Italy, who would have been led by Mazzola, made a group stage exit from the 1950 World Cup.
Alfredo Di Stefano
Country: Argentina, Spain
Notable clubs: Real Madrid (1953-1964)
Major club titles won: European Cup (1955-56, 1956-57, 1957-58, 1958-59, 1959-60), La Liga (1953-54, 1954-55, 1956-57, 1957-58, 1960-61, 1961-62, 1962-63, 1963-64)
The Argentina-born forward was denied a chance to play in the 1950 and 1954 editions after his country withdrew from the Cup. Di Stefano became a Spanish citizen in 1956, but Spain failed to qualify for 1958. He helped Spain make the cut for 1962, but an injury forced him out.
George Weah
Country: Liberia
Notable clubs: Monaco (1988-92), Paris Saint-Germain (1992-95), AC Milan (1995-2000), Chelsea (2000)
Major club titles won: Ligue 1 (1993-94), Serie A (1995-96, 1998-99)
The only African to win the FIFA Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or, the closest he came to qualifying for the World Cup was in 2002 edition when Liberia failed to make the cut by just a point. Despite the exploits of Weah, the current Liberia President, the team struggled in internationals.
George Best
Country: Northern Ireland
Notable clubs: Manchester United (1963-1974)
Major club titles won: European Cup (1968), English First Division (1964-65, 1966-67)
His exploits for Man United propelled Matt Busby-coached side to European Cup triumph in 1968, but his finest years saw Northern Ireland struggle. Off-field issues saw Best’s career fade away in his late 20s. When Northern Ireland qualified for their first World Cup in 1982, a 36-year-old Best, beset by alcoholism, was well past his prime.
Eric Cantona
Country: France
Notable clubs: Marseille (1988-91), Leeds United (1992), Manchester United (1992-1997)
Major club titles won: Ligue 1 (1988-89, 1990-91), English First Division (1991-92), Premier League (1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97)
Dubbed ‘King Eric’ by Man United fans after helping them end a 26-year league title drought in 1993, Cantona’s career for France was underwhelming. France failed to qualify for 1990 and 1994. In 1995, Cantona, then France skipper, was suspended for kicking a fan during a game in England. He lost his place and was never recalled.
Photos: GETTY | Graphics: HITESH MATHUR