Well, the World Cup is now over. We witnessed 32 nations competing for the ultimate prize that is determined in a matter of weeks. We discuss the players who have won it and those who came up short. We also remember those who were never fortunate to participate in this competition. This is my list of superb players who never got a chance to play in the World Cup in my viewing lifetime.
Without a doubt, players such as Kubala, Best, Di Stefano, Schuster, Ian Rush, and even Matthew Le Tissier come to mind when it comes to the list of excellent players to never appear in a World Cup. However, I was not alive or watching football during their time, so my list consists of players I was fortunate to see play.
For the position of goalkeeper, former Wales goalkeeper Neville Southall is the only superb goalkeeper that I can think of who never got play in the World Cup. The Evertonian goalkeeper was legendary for his club, especially during my first ever FA Cup Final against Manchester United in 1995. But alas, being a member of Welsh national team meant he would never play at a World Cup after appearing 92 times for the Welsh from 1982 to 1997.
Outside of Mexico, Joaquín Beltrán was an unknown player but this Mexican defender was one of the best defenders inside Mexico. The former legendary UNAM Pumas defender made over 350 appearances for the club from 1996 till 2006 and was a member of the UNAM team that won both 2004 Apertura and Clausura titles. However, he was always snubbed for World Cup under different managers, especially by Ricardo Lavolpe for the 2006 World Cup when Beltrán was at his peak. He was capped 17 times between 1999 and 2007, and he retired in 2010 which his best days were already behind him and he could not be a member of the 2010 Mexican World Cup squad.
Another superb defender who never got to play in the World Cup was the legendary Finnish Liverpool captain, Sami Hyypiä. He was Liverpool’s captain during their amazing five trophies in 2002 and was a starter in that magical 2004-2005 Champions League Finals victory against AC Milan. Hyypiä made his debut for Finland in 1992 and would feature for the Finland national team 105 times. Unfortunately, Finland never could qualify for the World Cup and Hyypiä missed out on playing on the biggest stage in football.
Another legendary Liverpool defender, Norwegian John Arne Riise and teammate of Sami Hyypiä also never got to enjoy playing in a World Cup. He was also a starter of that magical 2004-2005 Champions League Finals victory against AC Milan. Nonetheless, Arne Riise time with the national time came after their glory days of the 90s when they qualified for World Cup 1994 and 1998. Norway hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since then which coincided during Arne Riise’s 110 caps for the Norwegians.
The Manchester United legend needs no introduction. A well decorated player with the Red Devils, Giggs was one of the cornerstones for manager Alex Ferguson that saw United become the biggest club during the 90s. Giggs made his debut for Wales as a 17 year old in 1991 and would go on to appear a total 64 times before his retirement from the national team in 2007. He got to play against the best in England and Europe for United but could never represent Wales at the World Cup. He is now tasked with the responsibility of ensuring Wales qualify for the Euro Cup and World Cup as their national team manager.
Another legend who needs no introduction, Eric “The King” was a superb player for Manchester United but did not fare much luck as a member of the French national team. He made his debut for “Les Bleus” in 1987, a year after the French made it to the Semi-Finals of the 1986 World Cup. However, Cantona was handed a one year ban for insulting then French national team manager Henri Michel who would not last long at the helm after France failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup. Eventually, Cantona did get to represent France at a major international tournament after France qualified for Euro 92. Nonetheless, there would be heart break two years later when France failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup after suffering a 2-1 loss to Bulgaria in the final qualifying match. With France hosting the 1998 World Cup, Cantona’s long wait to play in a World Cup was about to end. However, his suspension after kung-fu kicking a Crystal Palace fan resulted in him losing the captaincy to Zinedine Zidane, under new French manager Aimé Jacquet and not be called up for Euro 96. Cantona would retire from football altogether in 1997 and would never feature for France again as Jacquet preferred to rely on Zidane and other young players who would go on to win the 1998 World Cup.
Brazil has produced numerous strikers over the years and Giovane Élber was one of the best Brazilian strikers of the late 90s and early 2000s to play in Europe. Élber arrived to Europe as a teenager and came on the scene after his move to Bayern Munich in 1997 where he would score 139 goals in all competitions during six seasons. He was one of the stars as Bayern won the 2001-2002 UEFA Champions League. Élber got his first cap for Brazil in 1998, but he would miss out on being called up for World Cup 1998 and 2002. His omission in 2002 partially stemmed from not representing Brazil during Copa America 2001which was being held in Colombia. Argentina had withdrawn from Copa America 2001 due to the violence in Colombia and Bayern had refused to release Élber out of security concerns. Luiz Felipe Scolari, still upset over certain players not appearing for Brazil in Copa America 2001, snubbed Élber for Luizão and Edilson as Brazil won the 2002 World Cup with Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho shining in attack. Élber would not feature for Brazil again after 2001.
The legendary Ajax Amsterdam player from Finland, Litmanen also joins his Finnish teammate Sami Hyypiä in the unfortunate players to never appear in a World Cup. The Ajax number 10 was one of the lynchpins that saw the Amsterdam club win the Champions League in the mid-90s. Unfortunately, he could not guide Finland to a World Cup. His first cap in 1989 and his final appearance was in 2010. He amassed 137 appearances for his country and scored 32 goals along the way.
Frédéric Kanouté might be considered a flop to some regarding his time with Spurs but he was part of a historic Sevilla side that won back to back UEFA Cup Finals in 2006 and 2007 under manager Juande Ramos. Fredi would also celebrate two Copa del Rey titles along with the UEFA Super Cup for the Andalusian club while scoring 136 goals from 290 appearances over seven seasons. Although he featured for the French U-21 team, he was never called up by “Les Bleus” and opted to play for Mali, the birth country of his father, back in 2004. He was joint top goal scorer for Mali at the 2004 African Cup of Nations where they suffered defeat in the Semi-Finals to Morocco. He would represent Mali for six years before retiring after the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Fredi was capped 39 times and scored 23 goals during his time with the Malian national team but the competitive nature of the Confederation of African Football did not allow him to qualify with Mali to a World Cup.
During the 90s, Italy had an abundance of weapons up front such as Baggio, Zola, Vialli, Casiraghi, Del Piero, Inzaghi, and Vieri, so it’s easy for fan favorite Fabrizio Ravanelli to be lost in the shuffle. Unlike all those players, il Penna Bianca (The White Feather) was the only Italian player not to feature in a World Cup. Ravanelli was part of the Juventus side that won their second and last Champions League title in 1996 while scoring in the final against Ajax Amsterdam. Before Barça’s MSN or Madrid’s BBC, we had Baggio, Ravanelli and Vialli and then Del Piero, Ravanelli and Vialli as one of the exciting attacking trios in Europe. He received his first cap in 1995 and he was called up for Euro 96 after that Champions League final. Although he featured for Italy in Euro 96, he left Italy and played for Middlesbrough and Marseille and was ultimately omitted from the World Cup 1998. He never would play for Italy again after 1998 with only 8 goals and 22 caps to his credit. His opportunity at appearing in a World Cup was short lived and perhaps his chances would have been better if he had remained with Juventus who would go on to appear in two more Champions League Final, and lose both.
George Weah is the only player on this list who is a Golden Ball Winner and a president of a nation. Before he was president of Liberia, Weah was one of the most dangerous strikers during the 90s and was named African Footballer of the Century in 1999. He moved from Liberia to France and played for Monaco and then Paris Saint-Germain before making the move to Milan. His performances during the 1994-1995 season saw him win the Ballon d'Or. Weah made his debut for Liberia in 1987 and would go on to represent his nation for over the next couple of decades. Unfortunately, Weah could not steer Liberia to a World Cup but managed to guide them to the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and 2002. Truly one of the greatest to never play in a World Cup.