While the world’s top talents prepare for next year’s extravaganza in Russia, spare a though for those who will be watching from afar…
The World Cup brings together the best of world football every four years for the game’s most exciting spectacle.
With competition to make the tournament intense, however, club prowess is no guarantee of a place, no matter how good the individual.
The likes of Arjen Robben, Alexis Sanchez and many others are now facing up to a free summer next year after their nations failed to make the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
They are in fine company, as plenty of top-drawer talents will be left kicking their heels next June while the 32 qualified countries lock horns.
Borussia Dortmund’s Gabon superstar was close to helping his nation make their first finals in history. But after reaching the third round of African qualifying, Gabon found it a bridge too far.
Aubameyang failed to score in the final phase, but at 28 he may yet have another chance of making a World Cup in five years time.
Wales’ hero during their run to the semi-finals in Euro 2016 was unable to help them when it really counted this time round.
A hip injury cost Bale his place in Monday’s qualifying decider against the Republic of Ireland, and without their talisman the Dragons slumped to a 1-0 defeat which saw them miss out on a play-off place.
An unstoppable Belgium team in Group H of UEFA’s competition saw Greece and Bosnia & Herzegovina left to fight for second place, a battle ultimately won by the former who move on to the play-offs.
Roma star Dzeko pitched in with five goals for his nation, but fell short as Bosnia ended the campaign two points shy of their rivals.
Having started the World Cup qualifiers in dreadful fashion with two defeats and a draw, Hamsik helped Slovakia stay in contention until the end. A 3-0 win over Malta on the last day sealed second place in Group H behind England, but it was not enough as other results condemned them to elimination as ninth ranked of the runners-up.
There will be no World Cup for Algeria’s Leicester star. The north African nation endured a torrid time in Group B and are already consigned to finish rock-bottom of their group behind qualified Nigeria, Zambia and Cameroon.
Not even the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper’s heroics could earn Slovenia a play-off spot, and he will have to wait until Qatar for another chance to make the World Cup.
United States’ agonising elimination from the CONCACAF tournament is especially tough on Dortmund’s 19-year-old phenomenon, who had previously put in a match-winning performance to beat Panama and keep Bruce Arena’s men’s hopes alive.
Pulisic finished top scorer of the Hex with five goals, and it is around him the USMNT must rebuild after this disaster.
A finalist in 2010 and semi-finalist in 2014, Robben has officially played his last World Cup.
The Bayern Munich winger handed in his international retirement minutes after scoring both goals in the Netherlands’ 2-0 win over Sweden, a victory that fell short of the margin necessary to leapfrog their opponents into the play-offs.
After inspiring Chile to consecutive Copas America in 2015 and 2016 and despite hitting seven goals in this campaign, Alexis will not be in Russia next year following a pulsating end to the CONMEBOL qualifiers.
An incredible finish saw Argentina, Peru and the Roja all slip out of contention at times. But Peru’s draw to Colombia and a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Brazil consigned Chile to sixth place in South America and elimination
Alexis was not the only superstar left smarting by Chile’s World Cup exit.
Vidal, who hit six goals across qualifying to help the Roja stay in contention, could ultimately do nothing as results elsewhere conspired to leave Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men out.
It is the first time since 2006 that Chile have failed to qualify for a World Cup finals.