The countdown is in full swing and the 32 countries that qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ are gearing up for action. Fans all over the globe are anxiously awaiting the beginning of the greatest show on earth.
At the same time, some of the star players on the planet are gearing up for the big event. Make the most of the best players, as lady luck has ruled out a number of star names, including France winger and FIFA Ballon d'Or finalist Franck Ribery and Russian captain Roman Shirokov. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, so here at FIFA.comwe want to pay tribute to the slew of top-class performers who, whether through injury or because their countries failed to qualify, will be missing out on the trip to Brazil.
Unqualified greatsTwo of the most prominent names on the absentee list are there because their countries were unable to get the job done on the pitch. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale, two European heavyweights who had a superb season and played a key role in leading their respective clubs to glory, will both have to watch Brazil 2014 from afar. Their vast talents and colossal contribution for their national teams were ultimately not enough, leaving the Swedish striker, his pride dented, to ruefully remark that "A World Cup without me is nothing to watch".
The attacking pair are almost definitely the highest-profile figures missing out because their teams did not manage to book a ticket to the tournament, but there are also several players who had their bags packed for Brazil, only to see their hopes cruelly dashed by an untimely misfortune.
Colombian forward Radamel Falcao certainly has a claim to one of the toughest hard-luck stories, as he was preparing for the first FIFA World Cup of his career. Destiny, though, had other plans. On 23 January the Monaco man sustained a serious knee injury and despite toiling away for months in order to miraculously make it back for the tournament, in the end he fell at the last hurdle. "It's a tough blow, but now I'll have to support the team from afar," the marksman stated on departing the Colombia camp, going on to put an uplifting spin on events on Twitter, where he wrote: "All I can do today is smile, because I kept trying to the end."
The Colombian goal machine wasn't the only star laid low by the dreaded knee ligament curse. Two other players at the peak of their powers will have to cheer on their countrymen from a distance after breaking down unchallenged. They are Arsenal winger Theo Walcott and ex-Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes, for whom a botched lunge and a mistimed jump respectively was all it took to end their dreams of going to Brazil.
Almost every team at this summer's showpiece have had to alter their plans owing to injury issues. Germany will have to field a rejigged midfield and defence without the presence of tenacious enforcer Ilkay Gundogan and centre-half Holger Badstuber; Christian Benteke will be absent for Belgium; France will be deprived of Ribery, Steve Mandanda, and Clement Grenier ; the Netherlands are without Kevin Strootman and Rafael van der Vaart, while Spain will be missing starlet Thiago Alcantara.
Italy, meanwhile, were shaken by the horrific double leg fracture suffered by Riccardo Montolivo, who looked primed to play a pivotal role in coach Cesare Prandelli's plans.
That same day, Luis Montes, one of Mexico's form players, succumbed to the same terrible injury just two minutes after opening the scoring in the friendly against Ecuador. Just a few hours later, the midfielder was already taking the setback in his stride, tweeting "By the way, that was some goal I scored" – a post that was retweeted more than 38,500 times.
Croatia were dealt a triple blow, with coach Niko Kovac having to do without Ivan Strinic, Ivo Ilicevic and Niko Kranjcar. Colombia are missing Amaranto Perea and Edwin Valencia in addition to Falcao, while Chile have been left ruing Matias Fernandez's ankle problems.
A global pandemic
The African teams have by no means been immune to these woes, with Cameroon deprived of the talents of powerful forward Pierre Webo, Côte d'Ivoire shorn of Lacina Traore and Ghana unable to call on Jerry Akaminko.
Costa Rica have been the hardest hit of the CONCACAF representatives following injuries to Alvaro Saborio, who broke his foot, and Rodney Wallace. On top of that, Bryan Oviedo lost his fitness battle after breaking his leg in two places in January. Mexico, meanwhile, are also without Juan Carlos Medina.
Asia has escaped relatively unscathed from the injury plague, although Australia will have to get by without their hero from qualifying, Josh Kennedy, and Korea Republic full-back Kim Jinsu will also miss out on the tournament.
Carles Puyol, the former rock at the heart of the Spain defence, has been ruled out following a spate of physical problems forcing him to announce his international retirement. Puyol finished with 100 caps and lifted the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
Almost all of the world's finest players will be strutting their stuff in Brazil, but it is worth sparing a thought for the unlucky bunch who will not be able to grace the summer showpiece. They will be sorely missed, as they would surely have further lit up what promises to be an unforgettable tournament.