The upcoming FIFA World Cup in Germany will be missing a few of the game's most exciting practitioners, the likes of Samuel Eto'o and Obafemi Martins to name two.
Though both Eto'o and Martins will most likely have future opportunities to make their mark on the world's biggest stage, some of football's greatest names never had the chance to line up for their country at a FIFA World Cup finals, as FIFAworldcup.com recalls.
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A king in exile
The name Artur Friedenreich is the stuff of legend in Brazil. Born of a German émigré father and a mother who was a former slave, Friedenreich is regarded to this day as the game's first black superstar. Beginning his career in 1910 and playing for a succession of clubs in the Sao Paulo region, the free-scoring striker fast became a hero of the emerging Brazilian school. He made 22 appearances for his country and scored ten goals, and when the national team made their first tour of Europe in 1925 awestruck onlookers labelled him the 'King of football'. Friedenreich played for no fewer than ten clubs and his unofficial career record of 1,239 goals in 1,329 matches is bettered only by Pele. However, when the first FIFA World Cup rolled around in 1930 in Uruguay, he was not selected. There were strong suggestions he had been the victim of political wrangling, with all but one of the Brazil squad picked from Rio-based clubs, although other reports say he was recovering from injury at the time. Friedenrich retired from football five years later in 1935, at the age of 43.
No Di Stefano
Though he won five European Cups with Real Madrid in the 1950s, Argentine-born Alfredo Di Stefano never lined up at a FIFA World Cup, despite playing for three national teams. Held up alongside Pele, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona as one of the all-time greats, the rangy midfielder was twice voted European Footballer of the Year and won everything there is to win at club level but despite earning seven caps for Argentina, four for Colombia and 31 for Spain, the world stage always eluded him. He missed out on in 1954 when Argentina failed to qualify, in 1958 as Spain missed out and in 1962 when injuries kept him out of the running.
The Hungarian-born Ladislao Kubala wowed Barcelona fans with his athleticism and verve at the same time Di Stefano was doing his thing in the Spanish capital. With a complicated lineage - his father was Hungarian-Polish, his mother Hungarian-Slovak - it is no surprise that Kubala, like eventual Spain team-mate Di Stefano, lined up for three national teams, declaring famously: "I am a citizen of the world." Having played early in his career for fabled Ferencvaros in Hungary, then SK Bratislava and the Czech national team, he received a draft notice at the start of the war and returned to Hungary where he earned three caps for the national team there. In 1950, he made his way to Spain and Barcelona and subsequently lined up for the Spanish national team on 19 occasions including qualifiers for Chile 1962. He made the trip to Chile but never participated due to injury, yet while he failed to grace the FIFA World Cup as a player, he did get there as a coach in 1978 when he took Spain to Argentina, ending their 12-year absence from the finals.
Best not enough for Northern Irish
The legacy of the recently deceased George Best is well known. Heralded as one of the finest dribblers and all-around talents to have ever laced up a pair of boots, the mop-topped number seven won two league titles and the European Cup with Manchester United in 1968 the same year he was crowned European Footballer of the Year, becoming the first and so far only Irishman to achieve this honour. In a playing career that resembled a shooting star and was fraught with personal troubles, Best would not match his club successes with his national team. He played 37 times for Northern Ireland and scored nine goals but - operating often as an out-and-out winger - he was unable to help them secure a place at the FIFA World Cup finals. Ironically, after his retirement, Northern Ireland did manage to reach the finals in both 1982 and 1986.
Another more recent Manchester United hero, Ryan Giggs, has not been able to steer his native Wales to a spot at the finals either. Thirty-three later this year, it looks as if time has run out for 'Giggsy' as Wales failed to reach Germany 2006 after another disappointing qualifying campaign. One of the best Wales players of all time, the speedy winger looks set to join a number of talented Welshmen who never had the opportunity to play at a FIFA World Cup.
Among that number is 1980s Liverpool striker Ian Rush, the Reds' all-time top scorer. Although he scored 28 times in 73 internationals, the finals never beckoned for the Liverpool goal machine.
Eric the Bleu
The third in our trio of Manchester United greats never to have played on the world stage, Eric Cantona of France may perhaps be the most surprising. Eric the Red, as he was affectionately known during five amazing seasons at Old Trafford, managed to earn 45 caps and score 20 goals for his native France. Cantona was in France squads that missed out on both Italia 90 and USA 94, the latter disappointment the more dramatic with a last-gasp defeat by Bulgaria on the final day of qualifying. Cantona retired from football in 1997, thus missing out on any chance of being selected for France 98.
Click here for the great names and games of FIFA World Cups past
Two of Africa's most prominent absentees on the world stage are George Weah and Abedi Pele. Weah who recently lost a narrow run for the presidency of his native Liberia was widely considered the best African player of his generation and his years with AC Milan brought him worldwide acclaim and saw him become the first African player to win FIFA World Player of the Year honours. In the same year (1995) he was also voted European Footballer of the Year and African Footballer of the Year but with internal strife, lack of money and disorganisation hindering the Liberian national team, the powerful striker was unable to steer them to a first finals over the course of his otherwise illustrious career.
Abedi Pele, meanwhile, is considered the best-ever player from the West African footballing hotbed of Ghana. After a club career that saw him excel at Olympique Marseille, where he won a European Cup, he missed out on gracing the world stage with Ghana despite captaining the team for six years and earning 67 caps. With an enviable record at youth level and power status among Africa's elite, the Ghanaians will finally be making their maiden voyage to a FIFA World Cup this June in Germany.