Most of the World’s great players have graced football’s biggest stage at some point in their career but a few never made it, here’s a countdown of the 20 best of those players who missed their chance of World Cup glory;
20. Andrey Arshavin (Russia)
The diminutive magician may have endured mixed fortunes for Arsenal but in his home country Arshavin is a legend. After making his name with hometown club Zenit St Petersburg Arshavin lit up Euro 2008 with a series of dazzling displays as Russia surprised everyone by making the semi finals. It seemed Arshavin was destined for bigger things on the world stage with rumours circulating in the summer of 2008 of a move to Barcelona. But frenzied transfer talk settled down and in January 2009 he joined Arsenal where he ingratiated himself with the fans with a stunning 4 goal performance at Anfield but ultimately he struggled for consistency in England.
Worse still Russia found themselves in the World Cup playoffs for South Africa 2010 after a tough qualifying group and after Arshavin had set up a goal in a 2-1 win in the first leg a bad day night in Slovenia saw the Russian’s lose 1-0 and go out on away goals. Arshavin continued to play for his country and made another major tournament at Euro 2012 but again a shock 1-0 defeat in the final group game saw the Russian’s go home early. Shortly afterwards Fabio Capello was appointed Russia coach and quickly dispensed with the talented but inconsistent playmaker in favour of a younger more disciplined side.
Arshavin now aged 36 is still playing and after a brief return to Zenit currently plays for FC Kairat in Kazakhstan, with his country hosting a World Cup for whose bid he was an ambassador he couldn’t get a late call to add to his 75 caps, could he?
19. Mark Hughes (Wales)
No nation has produced more gifted players and failed to get them to a World Cup than Wales. Hughes made his Manchester United debut in 1984 and quickly became integral to Ron Atkinson’s United team with his combination of physical power and penalty box prowess. He made his Wales debut the same year against England and scored after just 17 minutes. But Wales drew a tough group to reach Mexico ’86- Spain and old foes Scotland. Hughes scored as Wales achieved a 3-0 win over the Spanish and a win over the Scots are Ninian Park in September 1985 would be enough to qualify. Hughes gave the Welsh the perfect start but a controversial late penalty handed the Scots a draw a bittersweet night for the Scots whose manager Jock Stein suffered a heart attack at full-time and died at the stadium.
At club level he surprised the football world when Barcelona chased his signature and he joined fellow Brits ‘El Tel’, Steve Archibald & Gary Lineker at the Camp Nou in the summer of 1986. But Hughes struggled in Spain and by 1988 he was back on Manchester via a successful loan move to Bayern Munich. Hughes won 5 major trophies with Alex Ferguson’s United including the winner against Barca in the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup Final. But Wales continued to fall just short in qualifying despite Hughes forming a deadly front trio with Ian Rush & Dean Saunders. After the near misses of 1990 & 1994
Bobby Gould was appointed manager and Wales became a joke side. By that time Hughes was on the downslide of his career with Chelsea and Southampton but still turned out for Wales until 1999 (aged 36) by which time he was the manager. In all he won 72 caps but never made it to a major tournament.
18. Hasan Salihamidzic (Bosnia Herzegovina)
This versatile Right Winger first came to prominence at SV Hamburg aged 18 in 1995 and was called up for the newly recognised Bosnia & Herzegovina team in 1996. He scored his nations first international goal in a win over Italy as the tiny former Yugoslav Republic struggled to establish themselves in world football.
But Salihamidzic’s reputation was growing and in 1998 he moved to Bayern Munich and proved a mainstay of the Bayern teams of the late 90s and early millennium, staying in Bavaria 9 years collecting 6 Bundesliga titles and a Champions League winners medal in 2001. But Bosnia were short on other quality players and remained in the UEFA basement through the 1998 & 2002 World Cup qualifying campaigns. But things were looking up in 2004 and Bosnia came within 1 goal of making the finals but missed out to Denmark.
Another miss for the 2006 World Cup proved Salihamidzic’s swan song finishing up on 42 caps. After notching 365 games & 48 goals for Bayern he joined Juventus in 2007 and stayed in Turin for 4 seasons before moving back to Germany with Wolfsburg and retiring aged 35. Bosnia made their finals debut at Brazil 2014.
17. Matthew Le Tissier
With his sublime skill, languid style and tendency to score spectacular goals Le Tissier was one of the first true superstars of the Premier League era. Le Tissier spent his entire professional career at Southampton for whom he made his debut in 1986 aged 18. He first came to prominence in the 1989-90 season, earning himself the PFA Young Player of the Year Award. It was expected to be the springboard for Le Tissier to launch a long and illustrious England career and had Bobby Robson stayed on beyond Italia ’90 it might have happened but ‘Le God’ struggled to make believers of England managers.
First came long ball merchant Graham Taylor who valued work-rate above all else so consistently overlooked the Southampton man. Then came Terry Venables who gave Le Tissier his belated England debut in 1994. But despite Le Tissier being a 25 goal striker in the Premier League Venables overlooked him for Euro ’96 as he couldn’t fit Le Tiss & Gazza in the same side.
The appointment of Glenn Hoddle offered Le Tissier a fresh start but he blew his only chance in a World Cup qualifying loss to Italy and Hoddle dropped him. On the eve of the ’98 World Cup Le Tissier scored a stunning hat-trick for England B but Hoddle again overlooked him for even his provisional World Cup squad. Le Tissier played on with Southampton until 2002 amassing 541 appearances and 209 club goals but only 8 England caps. Le Tissier’s career bore a striking resemblance to those of seventies mavericks Rodney Marsh & Stan Bowles who dazzled for their clubs but lacked the discipline or athleticism to succeed with England.
16. Jari Litmanen (Finland)
It’s fair to say when you think of Finland you don’t think of a great footballing nation, but in Litmanen they did produce one of the great talents of the 1990s. Litmanen made his name in his domestic league making his topflight debut aged just 16. His talents as a playmaking number 10. Europe’s big clubs started to take notice and in 1992 he joined Louis Van Gaal’s Ajax revolution. After a year on the bench Litmanen assumed the number 10 shirt in a young side featuring future Dutch legends Kluivert, Overmars, Van Der Sar, Davids the De Boer brothers. He struck 36 goals as Ajax stormed to the 1994 Eredivisie title and another 26 the following season as Ajax won their 4th European Cup with Litmanen notching 6 goals in the European campaign.
Litmanen would win 5 titles in 2 spells at Ajax punctured by 3 in and out seasons at Barcelona and then Liverpool with whom he won the cup treble of 2001. Sadly Finland struggled to find enough good players to build a credible side around their star-man in his prime. But in 2007 a ‘golden generation’ was thrust together with Sami Hypia, Joonas Kolkka and Mikael Forssell joining Litmanen in a side that would have qualified for Euro 2008 with a win in their final qualifier- they drew in Portugal!
They again got close to making South Africa 2010- going unbeaten against group winners Germany but missed out and Litmanen & Hypia called it a day. Litmanen amassed 137 caps and 32 goals (both national records) over a 21 year international career- if Finland had played on the biggest stage no player would have earned it more.