The article is based on the seven best players left out – not the seven most shocking snubs – and there is a difference. To clarify, players from countries who didn’t qualify or players who are injured and thus unavailable for selection are not included.
Not all the squads were announced at the time of writing.
Here are our 7 best players snubbed for the 2018 World Cup
7. Alexandre Lacazette – France
Whilst I’m not convinced that France have the best starting XI going into the 2018 World Cup, you could certainly make a case for their squad having the most depth. Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman just missed out on this seven, but both have been in and out of their respective sides this season. In seventh place, we’ve gone for Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette, who has never really been a favourite in the French national team. The former Lyon man scored 17 goals in 38 games in his first season at the Emirates, but Didier Deschamps has selected Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and former Gunner Olivier Giroud as his central striking options.
6. Javi Martinez – Spain
Javi Martinez is a player I have always found difficult to take to, but there’s no denying his talents. He is what you might call a ‘spoiler’ on a football pitch, rigidly defence-minded and renowned for his high work rate and ability to neutralise quality players by marking them out of a game. He made his name as a defensive midfielder with Athletic Bilbao, but has tended to play as a centre-back since joining Bayern Munich in 2012. You might have thought Spain would want that versatility on their plane to Russia, but they do have the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique at centre-back, as well as Sergio Busquets in holding midfield.
5. Cesc Fabregas – Spain
The second Spanish player to make this seven, the likes of Hector Bellerin, Marcos Alonso, Alvaro Morata, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata all also made our shortlist without making the final seven – an extraordinary exhibit of Spain’s quality in numbers. Given the anger expressed by some at Jack Wilshere and Jonjo Shelvey being left out of the England squad, imagine being in a position to leave out someone with the calibre of Cesc Fabregas. A world class playmaker on his day, Fabregas has previously racked up 110 caps for Spain, but they have chosen the likes of Andres Iniesta, Thiago and David Silva in his place.
4. Karim Benzema – France
The second and final Frenchman to make this seven, Karim Benzema is a player who comes in for an enormous amount of stick, and I probably will too for including him here. Personally, I find the flack he takes to be more than a little over the top. You could certainly make a case now that Real Madrid ought to be looking to replace him, but his service to the club has been excellent. Nine full seasons, 411 appearances, 191 goals, 15 trophies, 4 Champions Leagues. A composed and technically gifted footballer who is brilliant on the ball, Benzema has more assists than goals last season, which probably says a lot about his role at Real Madrid.
3. Alex Sandro – Brazil
One omission from the 2018 World Cup squads which seems to have escaped a lot of people’s attention is that of Alex Sandro. A quite brilliant attack-minded left-sided full-back who can actually defend, you could make a case for him having been the best left-back in Europe this season. Sadly for Sandro, his main rival for that title would probably be Marcelo, who also happens to be Brazilian. In fact, Brazil’s wealth of talent at left-back is quite ridiculous. Manager Tite has chosen to go with Marcelo and Filipe Luis, leaving out not only Alex Sandro, but also Porto star Alex Telles, Wendell at Bayer Leverkusen and more.
2. Radja Nainggolan – Belgium
Of all the omissions in this seven, and in the entire tournament, Roberto Martinez’s decision to leave Radja Nainggolan out of the Belgium squad is the one I find most bewildering. Presumably Martinez considers the Roma star to be a bad influence or potentially harmful to the dressing room, since on ability alone, he’d walk into their starting XI – nevermind their 23-man squad. Nainggolan is a robust, dynamic and industrious all-action central midfielder, and there are few better in that category in world football. Martinez didn’t even name Nainggolan in his preliminary 28-man squad, but did include the likes of Leander Dendoncker, Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj – a decision which has prompted the Roma midfielder to retire from the international game.
1. Mauro Icardi – Argentina
The best player to have been snubbed for the 2018 World Cup finals, in our opinion at least, is Inter Milan talisman Mauro Icardi. The controversial front man hasn’t always been the most popular man in Milan, but he is the main reason Inter will be playing Champions League football again next season. A really clever and composed centre-forward who is ruthless in front of goal, Icardi scored 29 goals in 34 Serie A games last season. It has to be said that for a decade at least now Argentina have had an embarrassment of riches in their striking department. Their attack for the finals will boast Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi, but one also might add that Icardi out-scored all but Messi of those four this season.