Winning the FIFA World Cup is a dream and a lifetime goal of pretty much every soccer player out there.
Bringing glory to your country and yourself is truly a road to immortality, in a sense. However, it’s one of the toughest achievements in the sport.
There are a number of factors that could make it impossible for a certain player to lift the World Cup during his career, even if he has the individual quality.
A quick look at our list of the best 11 to never win the trophy is the best proof of this theory. Even guys like Cruyff, Paolo Maldini, Eusebio, and Zico didn’t manage to do it.
And yet, there are some players in the history of the game who were destined to reach the dream, only to see it fade after an unfortunate injury in the worst possible moment.
A recent interview with the Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny, I guy I respect immensely, I must admit, brought this to my mind. The brutally honest words of a devastated man who missed an amazing opportunity to fulfil his dream made me think about others that suffered the same fate.
This is why I decided to create a list of players who suffered under such circumstances. They can consider themselves among the unluckiest athletes out there, as they should’ve been part of what became a World Cup winning team.
Laurent Koscielny, France, 2018
It’s only natural to start this list with the man who provoked me to create this post. As a friend once said, Laurent Koscielny is not exactly your typical modern soccer player. He is a usually-quiet family man who doesn’t tend to hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.
He does his talking on the pitch, and when there is something interesting surrounding him, it’s something like the story about Koscielny saving an accordion factory in his hometown. That might sound too ridiculous to be true, but it actually is.
That’s why I’m not too surprised that the Arsenal captain came out and gave an honest, human interview about the last 6 months of his career. Most players won’t afford to speak their mind and will rely on an army of PRs to polish every word that reaches the general audience.
But not Laurent Koscielny. The man spent years wearing the France jersey and was an integral part of Didier Deschamps’ plans for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
A nasty Achilles injury in one of the last games of the season ruled Koscielny out of traveling to Russia with the France squad. As he shared, his absence from the tournament and the fact that his coach and other people forgot about him was a painful experience.
Some may accuse Koscielny of being selfish, but it shows a human side of modern soccer players that we don’t always see. After all, in a similar situation, many people would struggle to cope with the thought that they’d worked hard their whole life and missed the ultimate prize in such a cruel fashion.
Dimitri Payet, France, 2018
Another regular member of the French squad that could’ve and probably should’ve been in Russia is Dimitri Payet. The free kick specialist is a gifted playmaker who’s equally capable of scoring and creating magical goals.
Payet was probably one of the best players in the European Championship of 2016 and one of the main reasons they reached the finals.
Similarly to Koscielny, Payet would’ve certainly gone to the World Cup if he was fit. And similarly to his compatriot, Payet got injured right at the end of the season. In his case, this happened in the last game of the campaign, when his Olympique Marseille faced Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Europa League final.
It was a sad moment for the player and one that he could end up cursing forever.
Payet wasn’t vocal about his feelings, but he is still a part of the French squad and has the chance to play in the next European Championship, unlike Koscielny, who retired.
Marco Reus, Germany, 2014
Next on our list is one of the most talented players in the world. The German midfielder Marco Reus is a classic tale of what could and should have been. The man is as gifted as it gets, but he also has the typical German discipline and desire.
You will see him scoring sublime goals in one moment and taking one for the team in the next. Players like Reus are the reason why Germany has been so successful throughout the years. He’s been a crucial player for Borussia Dortmund for years but has gone through a bunch of injuries.
At the age of 29, Marco Reus has had a career that many would dream of, but one that doesn’t reflect his immense talent. His knees have been a huge problem for years, but one particular injury will certainly haunt the man forever.
Despite his rather young age, Reus was a key player on the road to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He scored five goals and assisted three times in six games.
Naturally named to the German team for the competition, it seemed as though Reus’ place was cemented.
And then came a friendly against Armenia, just before the start of the World Cup.
It was a pointless game that only served the purpose of finding some rhythm.Unfortunately for Marco Reus, it was the end of his dream.
The youngster suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss the World Cup. And as you probably know, Germany went on to win it.
Reus had another chance in 2018 and was one of the few decent German players, but the overall performance of his country was atrocious, and Germany was dumped from the tournament in the group stage.
Similarly to Payet, the German playmaker certainly has another big tournament or even two in his future if he stays fit. I honestly hope that will be the case, as Marco Reus certainly has a lot to give to the game of soccer.
Christian Vieri, Italy, 2006
When you are looking at the best strikers from the recent past, it’s hard to miss Christian Vieri. The Italian was the most expensive soccer player in the world in 1999 when Inter bought him from Lazio for the astonishing at the time €43 million.
Few were surprised by the move, though, as Vieri was an absolute monster during his best days. He was physically strong as a bull but also capable of scoring all kinds of goals with either his feet or his head.
Unfortunately for Vieri, he is probably one of the legendary soccer players that was the unluckiest when it comes to the World Cup. First of all, there’s the shameful 2002 edition in Japan and South Korea.
Italy had a strong team there, and Vieri was the main striker in it. Unfortunately for the whole European nation, they had to face South Korea in the round of 16.
Vieri opened the scoring early on, and an Italian side that included players like Bobo Vieri, Paolo Maldini, Del Piero, Francesco Totti, and many more was the overwhelming favorite to progress.
That’s when the referee stepped up, allowing a bunch of brutal fouls by the Koreans to go unpunished, as well as wrongly disallowing a goal for Italy and sending off Totti. It was one of the ugliest games I’ve personally witnessed.
I must say that I’m not a fan of the Italian national team, but I felt for them. It’s no surprise that when the World Cup of 2006 came around the corner, the aging Vieri was eager to get into the Italian team. He even moved to Monaco in the winter before the competition to get some playing time and win a place in the squad.
Unfortunately, Vieri got injured in a game against PSG. Italy then went on to win the 2006 World Cup, and Vieri retired from international soccer.
It was a sad end for one of the most fearful strikers of the modern game.
Emerson, Brazil, 2002
I’m sure many of you remember Emerson, the Brazilian defensive midfielder who was the complete player. The man had an exquisite technique that is typical for soccer players from his country, but he wasn’t afraid of doing a lot of dirty work, either.
This earned him a long and successful career with teams like Roma, Juventus, Real Madrid, and Milan. It’s an impressive list, butit’s nothing short of what the man deserves.
A key player for most of his clubs, Emerson was also integral to the Brazilian national team. He was even the original captain of the side for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. It was all going well until one of the most unfortunate injuries you could imagine occurred.
Emerson was playing as a goalie during a practice session just before the opener against Turkey when he dislocated his shoulder trying to catch a shot. Quite why the skipper performed such a role, no one really knows.
The result was an injury that left him out of the tournament. Losing their captain didn’t stop Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho from going berserk, though, and Brazil won the World Cup that year.
Emerson is still heartbroken up to this date and certainly has nightmares about this particular moment of his career. He could’ve easily been the man to lift the trophy, but he missed one of the greatest honors in the soccer world.
I’m sure that many of you think that if the players above had played in the respective World Cups, their countries might’ve actually lost along the way.
This is true, of course, but I feel that it’s not that far-fetched to expect that their teams would still have gone all the way with them included. Although we’ll never know, I certainly have great sympathy for all the players I’ve listed here.
You may notice that my list is focused on recent soccer history. Do you remember a similar case from the more distant past? If you do, I would love to read about it in the comments section below.
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