PARIS – They are some of the biggest names in soccer, or on the verge of becoming a star, but they won't be playing at the World Cup next year.
These are five players whose absence will make the tournament in Brazil a poorer spectacle.
There is no point watching the World Cup because Ibrahimovic won't be playing in it — at least that's what he says.
While the striker has always been his own biggest fan, he does have a point that the tournament will not be as exciting without him.
The 32-year-old is in the best form of his career and has shown his full repertoire of spectacular goals: martial arts-style volleys, overhead kicks from 30 yards out, dipping shots from all angles. In the last calendar year, he has scored 47 goals for Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden — including four hat tricks. He has also set many up with his clever flicks.
The Welsh winger will be hoping he doesn't follow in the footsteps of his illustrious countryman Ryan Giggs — who won everything with Manchester United but never played in a World Cup.
The 24-year-old Bale is starting to find his best form with Real Madrid after his world-record $132 million transfer from Tottenham at the close of the summer window. Last season, he scored 21 league goals for Spurs, and his combination of power, searing pace and an incredibly hard shot make him a nightmare to play against. Defenders in Brazil will be thankful that they won't have to deal with him.
The Borussia Dortmund striker burst onto the scene during last season's Champions League when he outshone Cristiano Ronaldo to score four goals against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals. The 25-year-old Pole has 63 goals in 110 league appearances for Dortmund and is widely recognized as one of the best forwards in Europe. But he is crying out for a chance to showcase his talents — strength, close control and a poacher's instinct — on the international stage. Unfortunately, Poland had such a tough qualifying group that it ended up finishing fourth behind England, Ukraine and Montenegro.
With over 100 international caps, the Chelsea player has long been established himself as one of the top goalkeepers in the world and has proved a veritable rock for his country. At last year's European Championship, he kept the Czechs in the game with a series of stunning saves against Portugal in the quarterfinal — until Ronaldo beat him with a late goal. His reliability, strength coming out on corners and set pieces, and his stunning reflexes mean that when you score against him, you have really earned it. Strikers will be happier that he's not around in Brazil.
Major tournaments usually reveal a rising star: the 20-year-old Enzo Scifo for Belgium and Denmark's mercurial Michael Laudrup in 1986. Laudrup was 21 when he shone in Mexico, the same age as Christian Eriksen is now. His silky skill and quick-thinking brain have drawn comparisons to Laudrup, and Eriksen is seen as the future of Danish football. But a qualifying group with Italy and the Czech Republic meant that Denmark was always going to drop points, and it failed to make the playoffs as one of the best second-place teams. Eriksen will never know if he could have emulated Laudrup.