Cristiano Ronaldo will have to wait a little longer to find out whether or not he’ll be playing at the 2022 World Cup next winter.
It’s crazy to think that arguably the greatest player of all time might be missing out on the sport’s premier competition, but that’s exactly the worry on the back of Portugal’s defeat to Serbia.
A last-gasp winner from Aleksandar Mitrović in Lisbon saw Serbia leapfrog Portugal to an automatic qualification spot for Qatar, leaving Ronaldo and co with the prospect of play-off games in March.
Players who could miss out on Qatar
And while the Selecao will rightly be fancied to navigate the two games necessary to compete at the World Cup, that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking that Ronaldo could miss out on a place.
However, if there is any consolation for the Manchester United star then it’s in the fact that a number of world-class players are similarly facing the threat of watching the 2022 World Cup from home.
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In fact, so many world-class players that – inspired by Planet Football – we wanted to draw up the best XI that you can build from them to illustrate just how much drama the play-off games will hold.
And bearing in mind that everybody wants to see the best players competing at the World Cup, there’s plenty of reason to be grabbing the armrests and gnawing at your finger nails with concern.
Best XI of players who could miss out
So, without further ado, here is the finest XI of players who could miss out on a place at the 2022 World Cup if they don’t successfully navigate their play-off games to come:
GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)
Named the player of the tournament at Euro 2020, Donnarumma might not even be a player at the next tournament if Italy can’t assert their status as European champions in the play-off fixtures.
RWB: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
Arguably the best right-back in the world, Hakimi has been excellent for Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, but his place in Qatar isn’t assured ahead of the third round of CAF qualifiers.
CB: Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)
Similarly, Koulibaly will have to sit tight to see if Senegal can progress to a second consecutive World Cup as they join the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana in the final round of games.
CB: Giorgio Chiellini (Italy)
Like Donnarumma, Chiellini hasn’t been given a smooth ride by the footballing gods despite playing out of his skin at Euro 2020 and will need to rekindle that magic to ensure safe passage for Italy.
CB: David Alaba (Austria)
A Real Madrid star just one year on from winning the treble with Bayern Munich, Alaba will need to be at the top of his game to inspire unseeded Austria through to Qatar via the Nations League route.
LWB: Andrew Robertson (Scotland)
Scotland will need to play their best football to nab one of the three remaining UEFA passes to the World Cup, but having one of the world’s best left-backs certainly won’t do their quest any harm.
CM: Jorginho (Italy)
Our third and final Italy player, Jorginho could well go from lifting the Ballon d’Or as a Euro 2020 and Champions League winner to failing to qualify for the World Cup in the space of just a few months.
CM: Bruno Fernandes (Portugal)
Fernandes is a walking, talking goals and assists machine who has broken just about every record under the sun at United, so it would be a massive shame if he had to watch the World Cup from home.
RF: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Arguably the world’s best player on current form, Salah might need to channel another masterclass to ensure that Egypt don’t fall at the final hurdle and play at a second consecutive World Cup finals.
ST: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Another potential Ballon d’Or winner and the world’s undisputed best goalscorer, Lewandowski’s outrageous record of 23 goals in just 17 games this season leads to no guarantees for Poland.
LF: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Who’s this bloke then? Let’s face it, regardless of whether or not you like the Portuguese national team, it would be a crying shame if Ronaldo didn’t get one last shot at competing for the World Cup.
The XI aren’t the only players who could miss out…
If you think that the starting XI is remarkable, then you should bear in mind the bench with players like Edouard Mendy, Joao Cancelo, Sadio Mane and Luis Suarez all potentially missing out, too.
And that’s not to mention the likes of Jan Oblak, Erling Braut Haaland, Milan Škriniar and Wilfried Zaha who have already had their fate sealed by missing out on qualification for the tournament.
So, brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, because not everybody in our XI will be able to play in Qatar together and it just goes to show how insanely high-level the World Cup truly is… for now.