We take a look at some of the top Premier League talent who won’t be gracing the 2018 World Cup.
Antonio Valencia (Ecuador)
Now regarded as one of the Premier League’s best full-backs, Ecuador captain Antonio Valencia and his trademark driven crosses will be a huge miss in Russia. The Manchester United fan favourite has been justifying his Players‘ Player of the Year accolade with yet another impressive season. In particular, his cracker against Everton will live long in the memory of the Old Trafford faithful, a goal which epitomised the marauding style of the winger-turned-full-back.
His native Ecuador had the perfect start to their qualifying campaign, winning their first 4 games, including a surprise 2-0 victory in Argentina. But after 3 consecutive losses, even a 3-0 humbling of Chile couldn’t spark a change in fortunes for Ecuador, as they continued to slip down the table, eventually falling 6 points short of the play-off positions.
Alexis Sánchez (Chile)
Perhaps the most notable World Cup absentee, alongside the heartbroken Gianluigi Buffon, is the Arsenal talisman, Alexis Sánchez. He typifies Chile’s high-pressing, entertaining style of football and has helped them to back-to-back Copa America trophies. Despite seeming to have his head anywhere rather than Arsenal this season at times, he has still managed to show glimpses of the Alexis that we all enjoy watching. The forwards’s ability to conjure up game-changing moments means that Chile always stand a chance against any of the world’s best.
Heading into their final qualifier against Brazil, Chile were sat in third place, hanging onto automatic qualification as just 4 points separated second place from seventh. A 3-0 defeat in Sao Paulo saw that Chile marginally missed out on the fifth place play-off spot via goal difference. However, one could argue that qualification should have been secured well before this encounter, Sánchez and his Chile teammates will not want to be reminded of consecutive defeats to Paraguay and Bolivia.
Marko Arnautović (Austria)
Arnie is well and truly back. After a tough start to his West Ham career, Marko Arnautović is thriving in his new role as the focal point of West Ham’s attack. Four goals in three games over the Christmas period, featuring a brace in the 3-3 thriller at Bournemouth which was successfully predicted by Oddschecker, makes him one of the Premier League’s most in-form marksmen in the early stages of 2018. On his day, Arnautović is as powerful and direct as any in England’s top flight, he has the attributes to give any international defender a scare.
Many expected Austria to follow their Euro 2016 appearance with a successful World Cup campaign, but even Arnautović’s four goals in qualification couldn’t lead them out of a tricky group. Austria finished fourth as Serbia topped the group and Republic of Ireland made the play-offs, both of which are teams that, even now, sit below Austria in the FIFA world rankings.