Russia 2018: The best players never to feature at the FIFA World Cup

Lionel Messi is just one of a number of players who could miss out on the World Cup. But which famous names have never featured on the biggest stage?
Lionel Messi is just one of a number of players who could miss out on the World Cup. But which famous names have never featured on the biggest stage?

By Paul Sarahs

With qualifying rapidly coming to its conclusion around the globe, we take a look at some of the best players from the game to never kick a ball in anger at the World Cup.

George Best

Pele good, Maradona better, George Best – if you believe the good people of Belfast, that is. While the first two’s successes at FIFA’s flagship international tournament are well documented, Best never played in a major competition for Northern Ireland – only appearing 37 times over a 12 year international career. Northern Ireland qualified for the 1982 World Cup held in Spain and then manager Billy Bingham considered selecting Best who hadn’t been capped in over 5 years, but decided against doing so. The 1968 Ballon D’Or winner ultimately disappointed at international level.

George Weah

The Liberian striker wowed Italian and French crowds in the 90s with his prolific goal scoring for AC Milan, PSG, and Monaco, culminating in his winning of the Ballon D’Or in 1995 as well as being named African player of the year on three occasions. Widely regarded as Africa’s greatest player of all time, after retiring Weah got involved in politics in his native Liberia, running for the third time in the presidential elections as we type.

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Abedi Pele

The Ghanaian great inspired the Black Stars to Africa Cup of Nations glory in 1982 but never made it to the World Cup. Abedi, along with fellow African legend George Weah, was one of the pioneers of African football in Europe, most notably at Marseille where he lifted the UEFA Champions League in 1993 in a team that boasted the likes of Rudi Voller, Alen Boksic, Basile Boli, Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps – beating THAT Milan side. Since retiring from playing Abedi has been the chairman and coach of Nania FC in his native Accra, as well as fathering 3 sons – all of whom play professional football, including Andre and Jordan Ayew, Ghana Black Star regulars.

Kazuyoshi Miura

King Kazu is still playing professionally at the tender age of 50 years old, breaking Sir Stanley Matthews’ records of being the oldest professional footballer in the history of the game and the oldest to score a goal, too.

Having retired from international football back in the year 2000, Miura is the unluckiest player on this list – he scored 14 goals in qualification for the 1998 World Cup held in France he wasn’t selected for the squad. He’s Japan’s second highest scorer in their history with 55 goals in 89 matches and played club football with Palmeiras, Coritiba and Santos in Brazil as well as Genoa in Italy and Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia.

Ryan Giggs

Wales have failed to qualify for a World Cup since 1958 and defeat in their last qualifying game against the Republic of Ireland will ensure the wait goes on for another four years at least. There are a host of Welsh players that could make this list – Ian Rush, Gareth Bale, Neville Southall to name but three – but Giggs won the lot at club level but the former England schoolboy international failed to represent Wales at a major tournament in his 64 appearances.

Alfredo di Stefano

The Argentinian-born forward represented THREE countries at international level; Argentina, Colombia and Spain – scoring 23 times in 31 appearances for La Furia Roja in the late 50s and early 60s – but never made it to a World Cup. Described by Michel Platini as a ‘great amongst the greats’, Di Stefano won 5 European Cups and 8 league titles with Real Madrid, two top flight titles in his native Argentina with River Plate and won the Copa America in 1947 and went on to manage River Plate, Boca Juniors, Real Madrid, Valencia and Sporting in a glittering football career devoid of just one thing – an appearance at the World Cup Finals.

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