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First XI

First XI: Broken hearts

June 9, 2010
By Wim Van Walle & Robin Hackett
(Archive)

This week's First XI selects a list of the players who will not be able to fulfil their World Cup dream. Some miss out through injury, others because they have not been selected.

Only players from qualified teams have been selected, and injured players are only included if they have been officially dropped from their squad.

David De Gea
GettyImagesDavid De Gea is one of Europe's most highly-rated young goalkeepers

Goalkeeper: David De Gea (Spain) Linked with a summer move to Manchester United or Chelsea this summer, it's testament to the quality of this 19-year-old Atletico Madrid starlet that he has reportedly been valued at £25 million. He forced his way into Atleti's first team this season to become an important part of the club's Europa League success and, despite the fact he is yet to receive a senior international cap, Vicente Del Bosque named him in his initial 30-man World Cup squad. He could have travelled to South Africa, too, but for the presence of three of Europe's top 'keepers in Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes.

Right back: Javier Zanetti (Argentina) He has played 700 games for Inter Milan since 1995. He has a staggering 136 caps for Argentina, making him his country's most capped player by some distance. Javier Zanetti's resume is among the best in the world. A fair player, and not one to bully or shout at referees, Zanetti, who plays mainly in defence, has not received a red card in 11 years. No wonder, then, that he commands the respect of anyone involved or interested in football. Thus it came as a big shock when Jose Pekerman did not include him in his selection for the 2006 World Cup, opting instead for Lionel Scaloni, who played in just one game. Diego Maradona selected him regularly for Argentina's qualification games but in the end decided not to take him to South Africa.

Centre back: Rio Ferdinand (England) One of the first names on the team-sheet for Sir Alex Ferguson since his record-breaking transfer from Leeds United, Ferdinand soon also established himself as a certain pick for three consecutive England managers. Having formed a solid partnership for England with John Terry for some time now, Ferdinand will miss out on his fourth World Cup due to a knee injury sustained in training with England. Having just inherited the captain's armband from his defensive partner, this setback will be all the more bitter for Ferdinand, who will now miss out on his fifth major international tournament since making his senior international debut in 1997.

Centre back: Alex (Brazil) With Lucio, Juan, Thiago Silva and Luisao at his disposal, Dunga was able to leave Lyon's Cris and Benfica's David Luiz out of his final squad, but perhaps the biggest omission in the position was Alex. The 27-year-old was first-choice for Guus Hiddink at Chelsea and he became a firm favourite under Carlo Ancelotti in 2010 but, despite boasting a fierce shot in addition to his defensive qualities, he was left out of the 23-man squad for South Africa.

Left back: Aly Cissokho (France) A strong, pacy left back who made his name during a six-month spell with Porto in 2009, Cissokho proved he could compete at Champions League level and looked set for a big-money move to AC Milan last summer. However, that move fell through - apparently due to problems with his teeth - and he ended up at Lyon. Shortly after that move, he opted against representing Senegal and pledged his international future to France but, despite receiving call-ups from Raymond Domenech, he failed to make it onto the field. With captain Patrice Evra and Gael Clichy in as left backs and Eric Abidal capable of filling in, Cissokho was unable to force his way into the World Cup party.

Right midfield: David Beckham (England) When David Beckham first joined AC Milan on loan halfway through the 2008-09 Serie A season, it was mainly because Fabio Capello, unconvinced by Major League Soccer, had told him that he would not play for England, let alone make it to his fourth World Cup, if he did not prove his fitness ability at the highest level. Beckham duly obliged, playing well for Milan after Carlo Ancelotti agreed to take him on loan for the second half of the season. Even if it meant playing a complete season with LA Galaxy, then a half season with Milan, Beckham repeated the arrangement last season, with Milan's new coach, Leonardo, happy to have him. For Beckham, his commitment ended in tears when he tore his Achilles tendon on March 14. When Beckham lay crying on the San Siro pitch, his tears had little to do with physical pain.

Michael Essien
GettyImagesMichael Essien missed Ghana's incredible World Cup campaign through injury

Central midfield: Michael Essien (Ghana) Such is his importance to Chelsea, when Essien was injured during the 2008-09 season, Luiz Felipe Scolari said it had been like "losing five players". An injury in December 2009 almost kept him out of January's African Nations Cup but, although he did feature for Ghana in Angola, a fresh setback in that tournament has now ruled him out for the summer. It is a major blow for Ghana and could well scupper their hopes of making it out of a competitive group alongside Germany, Australia and Serbia. Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac, who described Essien as one of the best players in the world, said last month: "He brings so many things to the team and always gives us options. It's most unfortunate."

Central midfield: Esteban Cambiasso (Argentina) Argentina scored one of the best goals of the last World Cup in their 6-0 demolition of Serbia in the group phase. Even if Serbia did not put up much of a fight, the goal was impressive because of the patient build-up, involving no less than 25 passes before Esteban Cambiasso played a neat one-two with Hernan Crespo and dispatched the ball into the Serbian net. Not a regular goal scorer - although he does have his moments - Cambiasso made his name at Real Madrid and Inter Milan, as well as with Argentina, as a reliable defensive midfielder with great tactical awareness and a fantastic passing range. He was a regular for Argentina until Diego Maradona took over. Since that time, he has only been selected once.

Left midfield: Ronaldinho (Brazil) From Gremio via Paris Saint-Germain to Barcelona in under three years, Ronaldinho's rise to fame and football greatness was meteoric. After two seasons in France, he became a global sensation at Barcelona, where he was able to showcase his phenomenal abilities. Having played for Brazil at every level from Under-17 upwards, he played in his first World Cup in 2002, appearing in five games and scoring two goals, one of which still haunts England's David Seaman. He was back in 2006 but disappointed along with the rest of the Brazil squad, managing a single assist and no goals. The years since that World Cup have seen a decline in form for Ronaldinho and, even if his form did pick up during the past season at AC Milan, it was not enough to convince national manager Dunga to allow the twice FIFA World Player of the Year another chance to shine at the highest level.

Robinho, Alexandre Pato
GettyImagesRobinho has been included in the Brazil squad but Alexandre Pato misses out

Forward: Alexandre Pato (Brazil) Like Ronaldinho, Pato's omission from Dunga's final squad came as no surprise in the end but was still met with disbelief by many. "Everybody has had his chance to show on the pitch what they can do," Dunga said in March. "Both Ronaldinho and Pato had their chance to play and now things have been decided." The AC Milan stars are both said to be fond of nightlife and - while Robinho seems to provide an exception to the rule - Dunga generally demands professionalism and hard work from his players above all else. The highlight of Pato's 2009-10 season was a brace against Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage, but he struggled with injuries later on and any hope of changing the coach's mind fizzled out.

Forward: Karim Benzema (France) Only 22 years old, Benzema is already an experienced international forward and would have fully expected to be part of Raymond Domenech's final 23 when he made his big-money move from Lyon to Real Madrid last summer. However, he has struggled to make an impact at the Bernabeu and a bad season became worse when he became embroiled in a sex scandal in April. Domenech, though, said the off-field allegations were "not a concern" and that the player had been left out purely because of his failure to shine in recent times. Benzema scored just eight goals for Madrid last season.