10 superstars who might miss out on the 2018 World Cup

Alvaro Morata Spain World Cup

From a free-scoring Serie A striker to the Arsenal man who divides opinion: Barnaby Lane profiles the best players whose countries are going to the World Cup – but they might not

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Mauro Icardi (Argentina)

Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli may just be the luckiest man in football when it comes to his available options up top (if not in defence). Together, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi have managed a whopping 130 goals between them this season for their respective clubs – and all are certainly worthy of a seat on the plane to Russia.

However, such a plethora of quality options means an almighty selection headache for Sampaoli, who has no choice but to leave one (or perhaps more) of his Fab Five out. Inter bad boy Icardi didn’t make the most recent Argentina squad, despite having scored 22 goals in Serie A this season, and seems most likely to be culled. 

Travel chances: Bleak

Hulk (Brazil)

It’s easy to label Givanildo Vieira de Sousa – Hulk to you and us – yet another player who moved to China ‘for the money’. Admittedly, the Brazilian turned down numerous opportunities within Europe to join Shanghai SIPG in 2016, but his motivation certainly wasn’t all green (no pun intended).

Having struggled in his home country during the early stages of his career, Hulk’s four-season stint in Japan as a youngster helped propel him to greater heights, so his return to the continent that shaped him into a superstar was an understandable choice.

Motives aside, Hulk's decision to move back to Asia won’t have helped the impression that his career is winding down. Team-mate Oscar still makes the Brazil squad, but the 26-year-old isn’t quite as tainted by past international failures. Hulk, who turns 32 this summer, has younger and better players blocking his path to the team.

Travel chances: Non-existent

Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)

Out of action since December 2017 after suffering a groin injury, Juventus winger Cuadrado’s situation will be being monitored daily by Colombia coach Jose Pekerman. He will be praying the former Chelsea winger is fit in time for June 19, when his side take on Japan in their opening World Cup game.

The player’s club manager Massimo Allegri has been cautious, saying: “It’s an inflammation, these things can go away in two days, they can last three months or they can last six months. We hope not.”

However, both Pekerman and Allegri will have been boosted by the news that Cuadrado made a tentative return to training with Juve this week. Whether he will be match sharp for the World Cup is another matter.

Travel chances: Looking hopeful

Renato Sanches (Portugal)

The Macaulay Culkin of world football? Sanches is unfortunately looking like a prime example of what can happen when you get too much, too young.

The Portuguese midfielder exploded onto the scene as a teenager in 2015/16, starring as Benfica romped to the Primeira Liga title. The same year, Sanches received his first international call-up and lifted the European Championship trophy only four months later, having been named young player of the tournament.

A €35m move to Bayern Munich followed, but after failing to impress at the Allianz Arena, Sanches was loaned to Swansea in 2017. But the now-20-year-old has since struggled to adapt to Premier League football. Sanches’s abrupt decline means he’s likely to be spending the summer home alone.

Travel chances: Needs a phenomenal end to the season

Marco Reus (Germany)

A player who on talent alone should be travelling to Russia, but Reus’s place in the Germany squad is by no means cemented.

Borussia Dortmund’s talented forward suffered an injury to his cruciate ligament last May, which led to nine months on the sidelines. The 28-year-old made his return to action last month, and after scoring three goals in five games since his comeback, it appeared that he might go directly back into Joachim Low’s squad.

Yet such is the fierce competition in the Germany side these days, that he’s currently out of the picture. The players competing for Reus’s spot – notably Leroy Sane, Julian Brandt and Andre Schurrle – have been excellent in his absence. Unless he can prove otherwise, Reus is a luxury Germany could afford to miss.

Travel chances: Only if he keeps up his good form