The best players who won’t be at the 2018 World Cup

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This week brings the first leg of the World Cup play-offs. The countries taking part have one last chance to seal their place in Russia next year.

But it’s already too late for some of the best players in the world. We’ve taken a look at five top-class players who haven’t qualified.

Arjen Robben

Everyone knows Arjen Robben is going to cut inside from the right onto his stronger left foot. He’s been doing the same thing for years.

But even though they know what’s coming, few defenders are able to stop him. The Bayern Munich winger is that good.

Even at 33-years-old, he’s still the best Dutch player around by a distance. Now the Netherlands will need to find a way to succeed without him. Robben retired from international football after their failure to qualify for Russia.

Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale inspired Wales to the Euro 2016 semi-finals. But the Real Madrid ace missed the last two qualifying matches with injury. Wales fans will be wondering what could have been if he had played in those games.

Bale will be 32-years-old when the 2022 World Cup rolls around. It could be his last chance to play in football’s biggest tournament.

Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez was a key member of the Chile side that won two consecutive Copa America tournaments. But this may have been one tournament too far for that group of players, who finished sixth in qualifying for Russia.

Other than Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, La Roja don’t have any outstanding individuals.

Sanchez scored 30 goals for an inconsistent Arsenal side last season. The 28-year-old is available on a free transfer next summer and he won’t be preoccupied with the World Cup.

Marek Hamsik

Slovakia were only a point away from reaching the play-offs. And that means there’ll be no chance of seeing Marek Hamsik driving forward from midfield in Russia.

The 30-year-old is captain of his country and Napoli. The Serie A leaders play sensational attacking football, with Hamsik right at the heart of it. Slovakia are more functional but Hamsik’s ability to score from midfield always poses a threat.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

There aren’t many more exciting sights in football than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in full flight. The rapid striker was the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season with 31 goals.

Even with the Borussia Dortmund star, Gabon are still waiting to make their first World Cup appearance. They only won one of their five games during qualifying.

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