The 10 most shocking exclusions from World Cup squads

Romario Ronaldo

Whoever eventually misses out on Russia 2018, they’ll have to go some way to match these jaw-dropping omissions

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Gunnar Nordahl (1950)

A self-inflicted move on the part of Sweden's FA, who'd inexplicably banned professionals from abroad from playing for the national team. Gunnar Nordahl was his country’s undoubted star, having led Sweden to success at the 1948 Olympics.

He was top scorer in that tournament, and had plundered 43 goals in 33 caps by the time his move to Milan essentially forced him into an early retirement from international football. Sweden finished third at the 1950 World Cup with a team of domestic amateurs but could have won if their fearsome strikeforce of Nordahl, Gunnar Gren and Niels Lindholm had been allowed to play.

All three had joined Milan in 1949, ruling themselves out of contention. While a relaxing of the rules meant that Gren and Lindholm eventually got their chance to play in the 1958 World Cup – where Sweden were beaten finalists – Nordahl had already hung up his boots by that stage. He remains the third-highest scorer in Serie A history. 

Carlos Alberto (1966)

A rampaging right-back with excellent leadership skills, Alberto was surprisingly left out of Brazil’s 1966 World Cup squad. He was part of the 44-man training group selected by Vicente Feola but failed to make the final cut.

Tensions in the camp were behind what proved to be Brazil’s worst performance at a World Cup, as the holders crashed out at the group stage.

Alberto’s good form for Santos got him reinstated to the national team, and subsequently earned him the captain's armband as Brazil tasted success at Mexico 1970. In the final, he put the finishing touch to one of the tournament’s greatest ever goals, crashing home a Pele lay-off at the end of a long passing move.

Tony Adams (1990)

The first player to represent England born after the 1966 World Cup win, Adams made his debut against Spain in 1987. He went to Euro '88 the following year, where he scored against the Soviet Union, but Bobby Robson’s side finished bottom of their group.

Adams nonetheless looked set to be an important component of England's future, with his doughty defending and organisational skills coming to the fore – but he was left out of the squad for Italia '90 only a year on from helping Arsenal to the First Division title. 

Despite not featuring once in qualifying for the competition, Derby's Mark Wright was preferred to the young Gunners captain. In fairness, the Rams defender played a significant role for England after Bobby Robson switched to a back three following a stodgy opening game against the Republic of Ireland – and even grabbed the only goal in the Three Lions' 1-0 win over Egypt.

Liam Brady (1990)

Everyone knew what to expect from Jack Charlton’s Irish side, but dealing with it was another matter entirely. They had a direct and bracing style which plenty of more talented teams failed to cope with.

Craft and subtlety weren’t high on the agenda, and skilful playmakers like Liam Brady suffered as a result. One of Ireland’s greatest ever players, he retired during qualification for the World Cup, but then reversed his decision before the tournament.

Brady, however, was one of two players who stayed at home despite having taken part in some of the qualifiers, while Charlton took three uncapped players with him to Italy. Ireland reached the quarter-finals, where they were knocked out by hosts Italy.

Paul Gascoigne (1998)

Gazza was undoubtedly past his best in 1998, yet there was still a strong romantic appeal to the idea of taking the darling of Italia '90 to another World Cup. His career had been blighted by injuries and personal demons, but he still had captivating ability with the ball at his feet.

He’d recently left Rangers to help Middlesbrough return to the Premier League, although his fitness and focus were again under question. Still, Gascoigne was part of a pre-tournament training camp in La Manga – but then became one of six omitted from Glenn Hoddle’s final squad.

The maverick midfielder was devastated when told the news in Hoddle's hotel room, which he duly went on to trash. He never played for England again.