People take a picture front of a banner Zabivaka, the official mascot for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, in Saransk on June 11, 2018, ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup. – AFP 

KUWAIT: As the World Cup starts to get rolling in Russia, millions of spectators from around the world will be on the edge of their seat to witness the outstanding performance of dominant teams and their star players, and without any doubt the emergences of new ones.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup will undoubtedly witness the participation of the world’s top teams who have a historical background in this competition, along with players considered to be the best in the sport. But there is a paralleled aspect of both teams and players that are expected to participate at such high-level competition, meeting aspirations of this generation of football fans.

The two major teams with a profound appearance in the world of football will not be participating this year in Russia, four times world cup winners Italy and three times runners-up Holland, the latter’s last appearance was in South Africa 2010. The absence of Italy’s National Team was not too surprising as the team is going through a transition period to build a team of new generation players, coupled with inability of the previous manager Gian Piero Ventura to handle this shift, which lead to him being replaced recently with Roberto Mancini. World Cup 2018 will be the second consecutive absence of Holland National team from a major competition after they failed to qualify for the 2016 UEFA Euro in France, raising great concern about the state the “Oranje” team is in and the role its managers and staff play in this issue.

Whatever the situation may be, the absence of both teams will be noticeable, iconic players will be excluded from the competition, like veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and great Dutch midfielder Arjen Robben.

USA National Team will be missing this year’s championship as well. The Americans have been a regular participant for the past six World Cups, since 1994, as the usual representative of North and Central America alongside Mexico. It was surprising to see the Chilean National Team not qualify for the world cup. The South American Copa American’s two-time champion, 2015 and 2016, will be missed and the fans will not enjoy talents of star players like Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. Other absentees are Austria, Greece (2004 European Cup of Nations champions), and Paraguay.

Other players will not be participating in Russia as well and it was either because of their national team not qualifying, suffered an unexpected injury, or not picked for the squad due to managerial decisions.

In addition to Buffon, Italian defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci missed their chance for what would have been their last appearance for the national team in a major competition. From Holland Arjen Robben, will miss out his fourth world cup appearance, while the team captain as well as most expensive defender in the world Virgil Van Dijk will also miss an opportunity to shine on a world stage.

The UEFA Champions League Final goal-scorer Gareth Bale will miss the World Cup after Wales failed to qualify. Bayern Munich’s young star David Alba’s national team, Austria, did not either. Chile’s striker Sanchez and midfielder Vidal are great players the fans love to watch in international competition, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gabonese national player, will miss the chance to captain his team through the world cup. Many nations were forced to replace their significant players due to unexpected injuries, creating a challenge for the managers trying to compensate absence of their talented players.

Some of the key players to suffer from injuries in the past months were France’s Dimitri Payet, who sustained hamstring injury during the Europa League final. England and Liverpool’s midfielder, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain injured his knee ligament during the first leg of the Champions League semi-final which prevented him from finishing the rest of the season.
Crucial players from South America who will not be representing their countries this year are the two Brazilian defenders Dani Alves and Alex Sandro, and Argentina’s principal goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Denmark’s forward Nicklas Bendtner and French defender Laurent Koscielny will miss the championship. Not being picked for the 23-man squad is a great disappointment for many players who represented their countries in previous championships. Young players have proven themselves during the season at their clubs, so the managers have difficult decisions to make.
The most shocking of these decisions is leaving out the Argentinian striker Mauro Icardi from the squad, as he ended the season as the top scorer of Serie A Inter Milan. Coach Jorge Sampaoli assured his squad has “one of the most potent striking forces heading to Russia.”
Germany’s manager Joachim Low surprised the football fans with his decision to exclude Leroy Sane despite his outstanding season with English Premier League outfit Manchester City, and was awarded PFA young player of the year. Reports attributed Low’s decision to specific actions shown by Sane that induced undesirable atmosphere among players during the training camp.

Mario Gotze, who scored winning goal of the World cup final against Argentina four years ago, was not chosen as a result of his declining performance after the illness that kept him away from the pitch for months. Bayer Munich’s striker Sandro Wagner was not selected as well.
Spain’s 23-man squad left out players like Marcus Alonso and Javi Martinez leaving a big question mark behind the manager’s decision, unlike his decision on Alvaro Morata that can be justified after his goalless season. It was expected to see Karim Benzema out of the French squad after his incident three years ago when he triggered a scandal that affected former teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Coach Didier Deschamps decision to leave out Alexandre Lacazette, Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman was unexpected, even though some observers have supported the manager’s decision claiming the squad already has numerous capable players to make up for these positions.
England manager believed Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart no longer fit for the squad after their drastic drop in performance since their last world cup appearance. In Belgium, the squad left behind one of their best midfielders Radja Nainggolan, while Spain eluded last year’s U21 Euro Cup best player Dani Ceballos, most probably for not having a playing time since his move to Real Madrid. World Cup fans will greatly miss the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic after Sweden’s manager did not pick him for the squad as his performance on the field has dwindled after such a long career at the age of 35.
The World Cup will certainly carry many surprises. Some players may be upsetting the fans while others inspire them. The competition could pave way for birth of new stars to rise up the ladder to celebrity status. – KUNA