World Cup 2014: The 'Missed the Plane to Brazil' Dream XI
With 2014's rendition of the World Cup less than one week away, football fans are feeling similar to hyenas in The Lion King—starved.
2015's summer schedule offers little to feed the greedy masses but we will cross that bridge when the time arrives. Thankfully, however, 2014 offers football's tournament of tournaments to make gluttons of even the most deprived souls walking amongst us.
Even as that fact remains, there is one melancholic caveat: Some players we would love to see grace Brazilian pitches are unable to take part in football's greatest spectacle.
It can become rather depressing focusing on the talismanic names whose shirts will not be swapped, whose international annals will be missing a chapter, but such is life when only 32 teams reach the final and 23-man squads are mandatory.
In the following slides we will—with great condolence—compile the best starting XI who failed to board a national team plane bound for Brazil.
Before you implode, let us set the parameters.
The guidelines for this experiment are rather simple.
If a player was not on a 23-man roster, he is eligible.
However, should a player be retired from international competition (like the England quartet pictured above) his name is struck from consideration.
The formation employed is a 4-3-3 with one holding midfielder.
GK: Petr Cech (Czech Republic)
With Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer all slated to be placed between their country's respective goalposts, Petr Cech seems the best of the rest.
The Czech Republic placed third in their UEFA qualification group, and they had no real chance of progressing to the World Cup finals.
That said, their goalkeeper is an octopus.
Named in the PFA's 2013-14 Premier League Team of the Year, Cech earned his place in our fictitious starting XI with the performance level he has maintained for both Chelsea and his national side over the last decade.
LB: David Alaba (Austria)
In recent history, one of either Ashley Cole or Marcelo has been touted as the world's premier left-back. Their crowns, however, are being knocked off by Austrian sensation David Alaba.
The Bayern Munich man has taken his place with the German giants and won nearly everything he can at club level. The scary part being, Alaba is just 21 years old—there is much more to accomplish for him yet.
Although, when your birth country is Austria the aforementioned "much more" is not likely to come in an international format.
Is it possible Austria could come into a Belgian-like renaissance over the next decade? One may suppose the possibility, but until it happens you can expect the world-class Alaba to be a mainstay on XIs such as this.
CB: Neven Subotic (Serbia)
Neven Subotic would have never expected to be on his couch this summer. The Serbian national team served as one of the more disappointing outfits in European qualifying.
Plying his trade with Borussia Dortmund, Subotic completes arguably the best centre-back pairing in the Bundesliga, alongside Mats Hummels.
Funny enough, Subotic played for the United States U17s and U20s, yet he elected to play for his native Serbia.
Jurgen Klinsmann must secretly be hunting for the person who let the former South Florida Bull slip through the cracks. Likewise, Subotic will be watching Tim Howard scream at his back line vs. Ghana on 16 June and be thinking: "I could have been there."
CB: Joao Miranda (Brazil)
Selected for Brazil's preliminary 30-man squad, yet failing to make the cut, Joao Miranda will be gutted not to be playing in his native country over the coming weeks.
It leaves many minds thinking: "What did he not do?" Playing for an uber-defensive Atletico Madrid side marshaled by manager Diego Simeone, Miranda was an absolute anchor.
The Brazilian's play was pivotal in breaking the Real Madrid-Barcelona chokehold atop La Liga and he assisted in toppling AC Milan, Barca and Chelsea en route to the 2014 Champions League Final.
Remember the 2008 Beijing Olympics' Opening Ceremony? A girl was deemed "too ugly" to sing on such a public stage so the organisers had a "prettier girl" lip sync the song? This feels a lot similar.
For all his offensive qualities, David Luiz is not half the defender Miranda has proven to be—yet the flamboyant Luiz gets the nod as his effervescent personality seemingly transcends common sense (see £50 million and PSG).
RB: Branislav Ivanovic (Serbia)
Which one word best describes Branislav Ivanovic?
The second of three compatriots in this XI, Ivanovic is another Serbian disappointed to be on his living-room sofa. Chelsea's cruiser has been able to transition from centre-back to right-back at the behest of Jose Mourinho with great aplomb.
2014's World Cup is littered with shifty left-wingers—Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard and Neymar for example. If one cannot match their pace, then power is the next best option. What Ivanovic lacks in pace he more than makes up for in muscle.
CDM: Nemanja Matic (Serbia)
The last Serbian and final Chelsea player in our XI is Nemanja Matic.
Winner of the 2012-13 LPFP Primeira Liga Player of the Year and nominated for the 2013 FIFA Puskas Award for a stunning finish against FC Porto while at Benfica, Matic has come into his own as a world-class defensive midfielder.
Had Serbia made the World Cup trip to Brazil, the powerhouse surely would have expanded his coming-out party even further. Robust, yet deft of foot all the same, Matic is one to watch on the international stage come Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.
CM: Aaron Ramsey (Wales)
A case could be made—were it not for his various ailments—Aaron Ramsey would now be regarded as the Premier League's best central midfielder. Yaya Toure would be in a barrister's wig and gown attempting to defend his place—but Ramsey's talent is undeniable.
Were the 23-year-old Welshman born 100 miles to the east, he would have been an automatic selection for Roy Hodgson's England side. Being from Wales, however, your international career is rather sequestered.
Arsene Wenger must watch Wales through his fingers, praying his cornerstone of the future gets through each fixture unscathed. Football fans, on the other hand, would love to see Ramsey get his shot at the Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup.
CM: Marek Hamsik (Slovakia)
Matched in a group with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece, the Slovakian national side will be watching the World Cup at home. Other than Liverpool's Martin Skrtel, the only distinguishable name found on the Slovaks' team sheet is gifted midfielder Marek Hamsik.
The Napoli man finds himself at the disadvantage of being the best footballer in a weak footballing nation. Even with Hamsik's "best" being virtually unstoppable, in a game comprised of 11 parts, individual brilliance rarely proves greater than the sum of your opposition's collective components.
His ability to read the game and score from midfield makes Hamsik a terror to mark. The 26-year-old will have two more World Cup qualification campaigns over the next eight years; the hope would be Hamsik's ability to burst forward and dominate games will not be completely lost should Slovakia find a way to football's grandest stage.
LAM/LW: Samir Nasri (France)
In possibly the shock of qualified absentees, French manager Didier Deschamps elected against taking Samir Nasri to Brazil.
Many onlookers were taken aback, likewise Nasri and his girlfriend. The notion one of Manchester City's key midfielders cannot find his way to a national side is rather dumbfounding.
Deschamps told the press concerning his decision:
Firstly, I have said that Nasri is a great player and he has a lot of quality, but his performances in the French team are not at the same level than the ones at Manchester City. At his club he is important, he is a first-team player, but that's not the case in the French team.
France must have vastly more talent than we realise if Nasri can be deemed surplus to requirements.
RAM/RW: Gareth Bale (Wales)
The world's most expensive player will not be at the World Cup. Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale, high off his Champions League crown, will unfortunately be watching the FIFA World Cup rather than participating.
Blessed with pace and a penchant for goals, the Welsh southpaw might be the most glaring erasure from the summer spectacular.
Like team-mate Aaron Ramsey, Bale is at the mercy of his birth nation.
Hailing from Cardiff, Roy Hodgson must be thinking: "If only Bale were born across the Mouth of the River Severn" or: "Why must the United Kingdom be so... 'ununited?'"
ST: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
As UEFA's qualification play-offs were cast, the world realised Brazil 2014 was going to miss either Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. After scoring four goals over two legs, Ronaldo carried his team to Brazil, which essentially left Ibrahimovic stranded at our fantastic hangar.
Widely considered the best player in France's Ligue 1, the Swede's omission hurts the World Cup's box-office appeal. Not to suggest the tournament will fail to conjure intrigue—as the notion seems rather absurd—but when household names play as many World Cup matches as the viewers at home, "ideal" is not the word.
For all the headlines "The Zlatan" would have made, his impressive goalscoring feats will be missed above all. Capable of ridiculousness, Ibrahimovic—winner of the 2013 FIFA Puskas Award—is a man for the big occasion and there is no bigger occasion than the FIFA World Cup.
You would have loved to see what the nomadic forward might have birthed if given the chance. At 32 years of age, there seems enough petrol left in Ibra's tank for one last World Cup bid.
We live in hope.
Comments Section: Who Ya Got?
Only 32 teams make the trip to Brazil.
However, there were 204 teams registered for qualifying, meaning 172 nations and (assuming 23-man squads) a potential pool of 3,956 players will have missed their chance at international fame and glory.
Of the nearly 4,000 footballers who would have made their respective teams, here, we only have space for 11. Obviously there are excluded names who deserve a mention—or possible inclusion—in this starting XI.
Feel free to name your own XIs/favourite missing players in the comments section.