THE group stages of World Cup qualifiers have been completed – leaving a glittering array of stars missing out on Russia 2018.
Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to just snatch a place in next summer’s tournament with a dazzling hat-trick against Ecuador.
But although it meant Messi and Sergio Aguero were able to keep alive their World Cup dreams, it meant despair for Chile.
And that means world stars Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal will not be involved when the big competition kicks off next June.
They are not the only big names who will be looking on with envy when the tournament begins – Real Madrid star Gareth Bale is another who has to sit it out after Wales were dumped out.
Around the world there is a huge crop of top stars who have suffered the ultimate disappointment – a group who would make up a powerful side in itself.
So how does the Failure XI match up against the dream team of players who have booked their place at Russia 2018?
Jan Oblak – Solvenia
Voted the best goalkeeper in LaLiga for the past two years, the 24-year-old’s hopes of appearing at a maiden World Cup were dashed after Slovenia were unable to progress from the qualifying group won by England.
Antonio Valencia (Ecuador)
Manchester United’s players’ player of the year last season, but the 32-year-old could not inspire Ecuador to what would have been his third World Cup.
Virgil van Dijk (Holland)
Rated at £70million and chased by the top clubs in the Premier League, but part of a Dutch defence that could only help the country to third in Uefa qualifying Group A.
David Alaba (Austria)
A winner of six Bundesliga titles and the Champions League, Alaba’s international career has been less illustrious with Austria’s abysmal Euro 2016 campaign his only experience of a major tournament.
Arjen Robben (Holland)
A veteran of three World Cups, Robben announced his retirement from international football shortly after scoring twice against Sweden in the final match of Holland’s unsuccessful qualification campaign.
Naby Keita (Guinea)
The Liverpool-bound midfielder will be fresh when he arrives at Anfield next summer after Guinea could not qualify from a group containing Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya.
Arturo Vidal (Chile)
The key midfielder, who starred in the last two World Cups, was suspended for Chile’s final qualifier against Brazil and watched on powerless from Munich as his team were eliminated.
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia)
One of the best players in Serie A as captain of Napoli, but powerless to help Slovakia secure a play-off spot behind England in qualifying.
Gareth Bale (Wales)
Was a major player at Euro 2016 but injuries have blighted Bale since then and he watched in the stands as Wales crashed out by losing to Republic of Ireland.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
Chile suffered last-minute heartbreak as they were pushed out of a play-off place when Peru equalised against Colombia, meaning the Arsenal star will not be sprinting up the flanks for La Roja in Russia.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
Gabon have never qualified for the World Cup and the African country’s shortage of top-class players means talented forward Aubameyang may never have the opportunity to play at one.
World Cup XI
David De Gea (Spain)
With Manuel Neuer out with a long-term knee injury, few can argue the Manchester United star deserves his place as the best goalkeeper in world football.
Cesar Azpilicueta (Spain)
His talents have been unheralded for years but the Chelsea star is brilliant across the back line in any position and is a match for the best attackers in world football.
Sergio Ramos (Spain)
Always doubts over his temperament and discipline, but his ability to inspire and perform on the biggest stage cannot be questioned.
Mats Hummels (Germany)
A rock at the heart of the German defence but exudes class as well on the ball. Tactically aware and right up there among the best defenders in world football.
Toni Kroos (Germany)
One of the best midfielders on the planet, calm in possession and is on another level in terms of his distrubution.
Paul Pogba (France)
Excelled in Italy with Juventus and this season finding his best form at United before injury struck. A physical force with excellent technique who is hard to stop when on song.
Antoine Griezmann (France)
Proven at club and international level to be one of the genuine class acts of world football.
Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Shown enough at Chelsea and with his country to prove he is world class and the World Cup is the stage where he could make a major impact.
The world’s most expensive footballer is delivering the goods for Paris Saint-Germain and shoulders the weight of a nation when he plays for Brazil.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Answered his critics who say he cannot play for his country in emphatic fashion against Ecuador, a mercurial player who is one of the greatest ever.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Current world footballer of the year, with an ability to grab hold of any game. May not be playing at levels of two years ago but is still a cut above.
There is plenty of class throughout the side of players who are not going to be travelling to Russia.
But defensively they may be suspect, and there is so much strength in the World Cup XI there can only be one winner.
But a game between both teams could well provide plenty of goals with the talent on show.
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