Gianluigi Buffon and his illustrious Italy team-mates crashed out of World Cup qualifying on Monday night after a 0-0 draw against Sweden at the San Siro, having lost the away leg of the play-off 1-0 on Friday.
The loss means Buffon joins a star-studded list of players who have failed to qualify for next year’s showpiece event.
Gareth Bale and Alexis Sanchez are among the other headline names who will miss out on the World Cup in Russia as several high-profile teams shockingly failed to qualify.
Here’s an all-star XI of World Cup absentees.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON (ITALY)
Buffon’s international career ended in tears after Italy’s failure to qualify. The Juventus goalkeeper won the World Cup in 2006, which is a memory he’ll undoubtedly always cherish, but bowing out in this manner was unbecoming for such a legendary player.
ANTONIO VALENCIA (ECUADOR)
Antonio Valencia has quietly become one of the world’s best right-backs over the last couple of seasons at Manchester United. However, he was unable to inspire his national team and lead them to the World Cup, as Ecuador were one of the casualties of a strong South American qualifying group.
LEONARDO BONUCCI (ITALY)
Leonardo Bonucci’s nightmare start to the season continued on Monday. He’s had a tough start to his AC Milan career after moving from Juventus in the summer. However, he put in a heroic effort for his national team, playing with a facial mask after an injury he suffered in the first leg and even soldiered on after pulling up with what looked like a hamstring injury on Monday, but it wasn’t enough.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI (ITALY)
Giorgio Chiellini joined Buffon, as well as Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi, in announcing his international retirement immediately after Italy crashed out against Sweden. Unlike the other three, Chiellini retires having never tasted success at the international level. He and Bonucci were both Italy youth-team players when the senior squad won the 2006 World Cup.
DAVID ALABA (AUSTRIA)
David Alaba endured injury struggles that caused him to miss crucial qualifiers for Austria, who had the misfortune of being drawn in one of the toughest groups in Europe alongside Serbia, Ireland, and Wales. Austria won their final two qualifiers without the Bayern Munich man, but it wasn’t enough to get into second spot in their group.
MARCO VERRATTI (ITALY)
At 25, Marco Verratti has plenty of time to banish the memories of Italy’s disappointing qualifying campaign. He’ll especially rue missing out on Monday’s second leg, as he was suspended and could only watch on as his team-mates failed to breach Sweden’s defence. Who knows how different things would’ve been had the PSG star been conducting play from midfield.
ARTURO VIDAL (CHILE)
Like Bonucci, Arturo Vidal hasn’t had a great start to his campaign. He’s missed games through injury, his Bayern Munich side were on the verge of a crisis before righting the ship, and the all-action midfielder failed to help his national side qualify for the World Cup. Chile were highest-profile casualties in what is arguably the world’s toughest region – Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Colombia were the sides that qualified automatically. Still, Chile should have at least finished fifth and earned a playoff spot against New Zealand, but they lost out on that to Peru.
GARETH BALE (WALES)
Speaking of a poor and injury-impacted start to the season, Bale was a huge miss for Wales in their crucial qualifiers towards the end of the group stages. There’s no guarantee Wales would have beaten Ireland in their final qualifier, when a win would have ensured a play-off spot, but Bale would certainly have made his side more potent. His injury struggles are likely going to cost him his status as a Real Madrid player, and they played a big part in costing his country a World Cup spot.
CHRISTIAN PULISIC (USA)
Christian Pulisic was left bemoaning USA’s shortcomings in developing young players after a shock loss to Trinidad and Tobago saw the Americans fail to qualify. He should know best: at the age of 17, Pulisic decided moving out of his country was the best option for his development. Now, he’s a star at Borussia Dortmund, and a 19-year-old who’s head and shoulders above his international team-mates – an indictment of USA’s lack of quality even considering his talent.
ALEXIS SANCHEZ (CHILE)
For a few weeks early in this season, it seemed like everything was going wrong for Sanchez. He wasn’t playing for Arsenal due to injury and a transfer dispute. Then he never got the transfer he so desperately wanted. And after all that, he couldn’t lead Chile to the World Cup. It’s been quite a fall for Chile, who reached the quarter-finals at the 2014 World Cup.
PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (GABON)
Gabon were one of the weaker sides in African qualifying, so it’s not entirely a surprise to see them miss out on the World Cup, especially in a group that also had Morocco and the Ivory Coast. Still, it was a disappointing effort from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Borussia Dortmund striker scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Mozambique that took Gabon to the group stages, but otherwise he failed to score a single goal during Gabon’s qualifying campaign.