The World Cup always throws up its fair amount of shocks – starting with the squads.
Big omissions are part and parcel of the process. There are only 23 places in any one squad.
That said, the five World Cup squad omissions are more surprising than most and could even come back to bite their respective natives.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has insisted the decision to leave Roma’s action-midfielder at home is a tactical one. He doesn’t view Nainggolan as a box-to-box or holding midfielder, meaning there is no place in his preferred 3-4-3 system. Yet the press, fans, and Nainggolan see things differently.
Known for his love of the nightlife and smoking habit, many feel Martinez simply didn’t trust Il Ninja, despite the midfielder playing a key role in Roma’s march to the Champions League semi-finals.
Barely used in qualifying, there was still some hope the Spaniard would see sense and bring the midfielder along. He hasn’t, while his decision to take Axel Witsel – currently playing in the Chinese Super League – only adds to the feeling this was ill-advised.
Boufal has been frozen out of the first-team picture at Southampton by Mark Hughes following a training ground bust-up back in March. The decision came after the Moroccan refused to warm-up during a league game. It’s a situation that has Boufal earn a reputation as a troublemaker at St Mary’s but that doesn’t tell the entire story.
An undoubtedly skillful footballer, capable of producing spectacular goals, Boufal even bagged one of the strikes of the season last year against West Bromwich Albion. That goal, coupled with the reputation he enjoyed previously with Lille in France should have been enough to earn him a place in a Morocco squad lacking players with top-level experience. He’s also had none of the same problems at national team level either and represented a valuable asset to a team and squad lacking depth.
In 1998, Mustapha Hadji put Morocco on the football map with a series of inspired solo displays. A midfielder dribbler brimming with creativity, Boufal was the player most capable of replicating that.
The newly-crowned PFA Young Player of the Year, Sane is coming off the back of arguably his finest season as a professional footballer. it’s a campaign in which Sane has cemented his reputation as one of the Premier League’s best players, scoring 14 goals and providing 19 assists.
He also played for Germany throughout qualifying up to this point. Joachim Low saw things differently though, dumping the 22-year-old in favour of Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt. Brandt has enjoyed a fine season in the Bundesliga with eight goals to his name and even impressed at the Confederations Cup and Olympics with Germany.
He’s not the one that should have been cut, though – that honour should have gone to the injury-prone Marco Reus, who made the cut despite a stop-start season with an under-performing Borussia Dortmund. Germany could miss Sane’s speed and guile on the flanks. He would have made an incredible impact sub.
He’s far from the finished article and a long way off reaching the potential once seen during that memorable encounter between Arsenal and Barcelona all those years, but Jack Wilshere still felt like a gamble worth taking.
The fact of the matter is that the England team is seriously lacking in midfield creativity. With no Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to call on and Jonjo Shelvey not given a chance to prove himself, the onus is on the likes of Jordan Henderson to start replicating his club form at international level.
Gareth Southgate played things safe with his squad selection and though he’s picked a capable group of players on form, predecessors like Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle, and even Sven Goran Eriksson weren’t afraid to gamble and benefited more often than not.
Wilshere may not have started many games but having a player of his undoubted quality would have added more to the England squad than some of the safer alternative options.
Icardi is currently at the centre of a transfer tussle that could see Juventus part with £50 million plus Gonzalo Higuain to land his services from Inter. So it seems bonkers that the Argentine is absent from the World Cup while the makeweight in his possible transfer makes the cut.
But Icardi’s absence isn’t about football. It’s about squad harmony. The Inter man made plenty of enemies after coupling up with compatriot Maxi Lopez’s ex-wife. Lopez and Icardi had been friends until then, but the move has seen things turn sour between the pair, with many inside the Argentina national team camp siding with Lopez.
The result is that Icardi, who finished joint top scorer in Serie A last season, misses out. While Higuain, who scored 13 fewer league goals for a better team, is on the plane.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.