Eleven of the greatest to never play at the World Cup

The World Cup is the pinnacle of a soccer player’s career, but unfortunately not every great player is able to represent their country on the biggest stage in sport.

Here we pick an XI of great players who never got the opportunity to play in the World Cup.

Goalkeeper – Neville Southall – Wales

Southall won a record 92 caps for Wales between 1982 and 1998 and in that time came close to qualifying for both the 1986 and 1994 World Cups.

Southall enjoyed a stellar club career where he won two league titles and two FA Cups alongside a European Cup Winners Cup. He holds the record for most appearances for Everton (578) and most clean sheets for the Toffees (269).

An excellent goalkeeper who never got the chance to play on the biggest stage.

Right Back – Joao Domingos Pinto – Portugal

Pinto played with Porto during a golden era for the club, captaining his side to the European Cup in 1987 and winning nine league titles with the Portugese side. He represented Portugal at the European Championships in 1984 and was subsequently selected on the team of the tournament.

He was in the squad for the 1986 World Cup but he didn’t play as he was struck down with pleurisy. He played 70 times for his country, captaining them 42 times.

Centre Back – Barry Hulshoff – Holland

Hulshoff was a key cog in the Ajax side that won a hat-trick of European Cups. He was powerful in the air and helped his side build attacks from the back.

A knee injury ruled him out of the 1974 World Cup and he never got the chance to represent Holland at a World Cup and showcase his unquestionable quality.

Some people believe the 1974 final would have played out differently if Gerd Muller had Hulshoff to contend with.

Centre Back – Billy McNeill – Scotland

McNeill spent his entire club career with Celtic and is considered one of their greatest players. He made a record 822 appearances for the Hoops and captained the ‘Lisbon Lions’ to their European Cup victory in 1967.

As a player and manager of Celtic, he won 31 trophies. The club won nine consecutive league titles and 13 other domestic trophies during his playing career.

McNeill retired from international duty in 1972, while Scotland qualified for the next World Cup in 1974.

Left Back – Eddie Hapgood – England

Hapgood won five league titles with Arsenal, two FA Cups and captained his country 21 times. He was signed by Herbert Chapman at Arsenal where he earned a reputation of being an elegeant and composed defender.

He played for England from 1933 to 1938, mainly due to his role in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

Midfielder – Abedi Pele – Ghana

Abedi Pele is considered one of the greatest African players of all time.

Ghana failed to qualify for the World Cup during his career, but he helped Ghana win the 1982 African Cup of Nations and was instrumental in his side qualifying for the final of the 1992 African Cup of Nations, where he was suspended for the final.

He won a Champions League medal with Marseille alongside four league titles. He was a wonderful player who never got the chance to represent the ‘Black Stars’ in the biggest competition.

Midfielder – Duncan Edwards – England

Edwards played for Manchester United and the English team. He was one of the ‘Busby Babes’, who flourished under Manchester United manager Matt Busby, making his debut at the age of 16 years and 165 days.

He tragically died in the Munich Air Disaster as United flew home from their European game against Red Star Belgrade in 1958, he was 21 years old.

Edwards was tipped to be a future England captain and many believe he would have captained England to glory in 1966 instead of Bobby Moore.

Winger – Valentino Mazzola – Italy

One of the all-time great Italian players, Mazzola was part of the famous Torino side of the 1940s that won five league titles. He is considered among the great no.10s to have played the game.

He died in a plane crash alongside his Torino teammates as they came home from a friendly game which robbed him of the chance to play in the 1950 World Cup.

Winger – George Best – Northern Ireland

A highly skilful winger, Best is considered a mercurial talent. He scored 179 goals in 470 appearances for Man United and he was their highest goalscorer for five consecutive seasons.

He is regarded as one of the greatest dribblers in the history of the sport and he was capped 37 times by Northern Ireland and scored nine goals.

Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup in 1982 but Best was 36 and well past his prime and, unfortunately for him, was not selected.

Striker – Alfredo Di Stéfano – Argentina, Spain and Colombia

Di Stéfano played international football for Argentina, Colombia and Spain and he is considered one of the greatest players to play for each country.

In addition, he is considered one of the greatest players to ever play for Real Madrid. He helped Los Blancos win an unprecedented five European titles in a row and twice received the Ballon D’Or.

Di Stéfano was able to take the ball from deep before bursting past opposition defences. He won 18 trophies in eleven seasons with Real Madrid. He was named in Spain’s 1962 World Cup squad but missed out through injury.

Striker – László Kubala – Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Spain

Kubala was a Hungarian national by birth, while he held Czechoslovak and Spanish citizenship and he played for all three countries. He scored four goals in six games for Czechoslovakia, and, while he didn’t score in three games for Hungary, he bagged 11 goals in 19 games for Spain.

He was included in the 1962 Spain squad but like Di Stefano, he was unable to travel due to injury. He played for Barcelona and during the 1999 centenary celebrations, a fans poll named Kubala as the best player to ever play for Barcelona.

Honourable Mentions:

Bernd Schuster – West Germany

Arnold Muhren – Holland

David Ginola – France

Allan Simonsen – Denmark

Gunnar Nordahl – Sweden

Eric Cantona – France

Ian Rush – Wales

Ryan Giggs – Wales

Liam Brady – Ireland

George Weah – Liberia

Author Details

Ivan Smyth

I am a soccer enthusiast and budding journalist. I am interested in the Premier League, SSE Airtricity League and international tournaments. I love voicing my opinions on all things soccer related. If you like my work, follow me on Twitter to discuss the beautiful game.

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