Potential missing World Cup XI: Could Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo not be in Russia?
Last Updated: 07/09/17 5:02pm
Could Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo not be in Russia? We look at the players who could potentially miss the 2018 World Cup.
With just two games of the qualifying rounds to go across the six international confederations, the identity of the 32 teams set to compete for the Jules Rimet Trophy are starting to take shape.
Eight teams have already been confirmed, including hosts Russia who qualify automatically but not everyone will make it through.
There are some big teams who could yet miss out on the 2018 World Cup, including Argentina, the Netherlands, Portugal and Chile to name a few.
Here, we put together an XI of players who could miss out on the Russia showpiece...
Goalkeeper - Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
A World Cup winner in 2006, there is a risk that Italy and Buffon might not be in Russia this summer. They are currently three points behind Spain who top Group G and face the prospect of a risky play-off against another second place team, which could yet include Portugal, France or Sweden.
Left-back - David Alaba (Austria)
Alaba's Austria are struggling in Group D. They are currently in fourth on nine points - four behind third-placed Republic of Ireland - and even current second team Wales may not make it into the eight play-off spots as they have the lowest points tally from the nine runners-up spots in the European groups.
Centre-back - Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
Argentina are precariously placed in the South America qualifiers. In a group of ten, only the top four will automatically qualify while the fifth team - where Argentina currently sit - go into an intercontinental play-off.
There are just four points between the second and sixth-placed teams, so Mascherano and co could yet secure their automatic spot although they did draw their two most recent qualifying matches.
Centre-back - Virgil van Dijk (The Netherlands)
The 2014 runners up are facing an uphill battle to make it to Russia. They are third in Group A, three points behind Sweden in second, and suffered a huge blow to their stuttering qualifying campaign when they lost 4-0 to current leaders France over the international break. Although Van Dijk has missed out on recent matches for the Netherlands due to injury and a transfer saga, he could well be involved for the final two crucial qualifiers next month.
Right-back - Antonio Valencia (Ecuador)
Mathematically, Ecuador can still make it into the four automatic promotion spots in the South America group, but they would need to win both matches against Chile and Argentina and hope the seven sides above them drop multiple points. It will be a tough ask, and it looks likely that Man Utd captain Valencia will not be leading his national side out in Russia.
Central midfield - Arturo Vidal (Chile)
Another qualification in the balance, the current Copa America champions are sixth in the South America section and, as it stands, would not qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
They sit one point behind Peru and Argentina in the two respective spots above them, and the likes of Vidal and Alexis Sanchez will be looking for maximum points in their remaining games to give them the best chance of qualification.
Right wing - Gareth Bale (Wales)
Although Wales currently sit second in Group D, they would currently miss out on a European play-off spot with the lowest points tally of the current group runners-up and there is always a danger that they will be overtaken by the Republic of Ireland in the final two games.
Bale and co's best chance is to beat both Georgia and Ireland next month and hope that it is enough to secure them a play-off spot.
Attacking midfielder - Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Can you imagine a World Cup without Messi? Well, as explained above, Argentina are in real danger of missing out on an automatic promotion spot with a tricky intercontinental play-off on the cards as things stand. Jorge Sampaoli will need the Barcelona playmaker at his best next month to give Argentina the best chance of reaching the World Cup finals.
Left wing - Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Euro 2016 winning captain and current Ballon d'Or holder but potentially missing from the World Cup. Ronaldo's side are assured of a top two finish, but trail Group B leaders Switzerland by three points with two games to play - and it could be a straight shoot-out for the automatic spot as they meet in the final qualification match on October 10. If Portugal end in second place, they are likely to be in the tricky play-off draw that offers no guarantees for a spot in Russia.
Striker - Sergio Aguero (Argentina)
Another Argentine who might miss out, Aguero could have an extended summer break if his country fail to make it to the 2018 World Cup. The Man City striker was left on the substitutes bench for the last two qualifiers, although he could arguably have made a difference as Argentina drew both matches against Uruguay and Venezuela.
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Striker - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
Gabon can still make it into top spot of Group C in the Africa qualification round, but they will need to be at their best. They trail current leaders Ivory Coast by two points and places with two games to play, with only the first place team in each group qualifying for the World Cup. That means there would be no play-off berth for Aubameyang's side.