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Left behind: the best players not heading to the World Cup

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Yes, there are a host of players who aren’t going to the World Cup. That’s because the soccer gods have come to the conclusion that there can only be 32 teams in the tournament, which means some talented souls have to watch from the comfort of their own living room.

And yes, there are some incredible men that won’t be going due to the fact that fate is cruel, and they picked up severe injuries that will leave them out of contention in Brazil. This list includes Christian Benteke, Theo Walcott and, most likely, Radamel Falcao.

But what of the ones whose countries qualified, yet still won’t be boarding the plane? In some cases, their national team coaches had reasons for keeping them out of the squad. In others, their lack of inclusion remains a true head-scratcher.

(Clicking the country’s link will take you to the full provisional World Cup roster)

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany)
Manuel Neuer will be in the net for Germany. We all know it. But why can’t ter Stegen be included as backup? Instead it’s Ron-Robert Zieler, who at least has a fun double-barrelled first name as well. Still, ter Stegen plays for a better club, made more saves, and is on his way to Barcelona to continue his career. Maybe he made fun of Jogi at some point.

Ashley Cole (Chelsea and England)
Cole must’ve thought his chances for England were good after fighting his way back into the Chelsea squad. But Roy Hodgson, slightly surprisingly, gave his England squad a more youthful feel, and it’s Luke Shaw that will take up the role of the understudy of Leighton Baines. It’s a bonus for England, having to choose between talented left-backs rather than taking along Stephen Warnock, but it’s gotta hurt for the 33-year-old to miss out on his last chance for his country. Cole retired from international football after getting the news that he wasn’t headed to Brazil.

Miranda (Atlético Madrid and Brazil)
Miranda edges out Filipe Luís only based on the fact that he managed two goals, but really, why would Luiz Felipe Scolari neglect to bring either? Perhaps Big Phil is a Barcelona fan, and doesn’t like the fact that Atleti could trump them to the title. In general, Scolari seems intent on bringing veterans, but with these two at 29 and 28 respectively, it’s not like they’re short on experience (which could be a reason for leaving out PSG’s talented Marquinhos). And when you add the fact Napoli’s Henrique is going…well, he did play under Scolari for three seasons at Palmeiras, but he only made the partenopei starting XI thanks to injury crisis. Brazil may very well regret not giving one of these two a look.

Samir Nasri (Manchester City and France)
Well, this one was confusing. Nasri impressed at title-winning Manchester City this season, where he had seven goals and seven assists. He was involved in France’s World Cup qualification, making four appearances. So why isn’t he part of les bleus? Turns out Didier Deschamps thinks Nasri has a bit of an attitude problem, and doesn’t appreciate being left on the bench. He likely also now thinks Nasri’s girlfriend has an attitude problem, after she lashed out on twitter when the French squad was announced.

Radja Nainggolan (Midfielder, AS Roma and Belgium)
Yes, Belgium are stuffed to the gills with midfielders, so it’s natural that some of them get left behind. But Nainggolan is a special sort of midfield man – one that could add some protection to the defense, which often looks shaky and uncertain. Just ask Cagliari, who certainly slipped in the standings after Nainggolan went off to Roma in the middle of the season. He adds strength and steel to the middle of the field, but he’s not just an enforcer. Nainggolan can pick out a crisp pass and, when given a chance, loves to put in a shot from distance.

José Callejón (Napoli and Spain)
Yes, we could go on and on about players left off the Spain roster. The defending champions are simply way too well-stocked, particularly in the center of the pitch. But “Ziggy” Callejón deserves a special shout out. He failed to establish himself as a regular at Real Madrid and wound up scoring just three goals in 15 starts last season. Now in Naples, Callejón has blossomed. He may not fit Vicente del Bosque’s system, but in Rafa Benítez’s 4-2-3-1, the wide man has scored 19 goals in all competitions for Napoli.

Francesco Totti (AS Roma and Italy)
Roma’s captain began his international career back in 2000, and was part of the azzurri side that lifted the 2006 World Cup. He retired from international duty after the triumph, but made it clear he was open to returning this season. However, Cesare Prandelli decided to put his faith in younger players, and left the 37-year-old off the roster – despite an impressive season in Serie A, helping Roma fly into second place and challenge for the title.
(Honoroable mention to Luca Toni, another veteran having an amazing season in Serie A. The 36-year-old scored 20 goals for Hellas Verona this season).

Carlos Vela (Forward, Real Sociedad and Mexico)
Again, everyone knew this was coming. Vela hasn’t played for El Tri since 2011, despite various coaches trying to entice him back to the side. After accepting the management gig, Miguel Herrera did his best to convince Vela as well, but the attacker didn’t feel himself mentally ready to return to international competition. That’s too bad for the struggling Mexico team. Vela’s done well for himself in Spain, putting in 41 goals in 104 appearances with Real Sociedad. There are even strong rumors that he just might make a return to Arsenal – assuming he’s mentally prepared for that, of course.

Max Kruse (Forward, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany)
Joachim Löw don’t need no strikers. Or at least, not strikers that can actually put the ball in the back of the net. Ok, ok, Lukas Podolski had eight goals for Arsenal this season. And Kevin Volland, of Hoffenheim, did score eleven. But Kruse has twelve to his name, along with nine assists. He’s paccy, he’s precise, and he can get the job done better than Miroslav Klose. The veteran managed just seven for Lazio this season, but sentiment wins out, and he’s the one boarding the plane to Brazil.

Carlos Tévez (Forward, Juventus and Argentina)
A falling out with Alejandro Sabella means Tévez hasn’t played for La Albiceleste since 2011. Of course, Argentina have plenty of firepower up top, what with Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín and…what’s that guy’s name again? Oh right, Leo Messi. Still, 19 goals and 7 assists in 33 league games with Juventus is nothing to sniff at. Who knows, if Tévez scores four this weekend, he could even become Serie A’s top goalscorer this season. But no matter – he’s going to Disneyland instead.

Zlatan Ibrahimović (Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden)
So what if Sweden didn’t qualify? Someone high up at FIFA should’ve worked through a quick rule change that would’ve allowed Ibra to switch his nationality. Because what is a World Cup without Zlatan? Nothing. Just wait. You’ll see.

UCL: Arsenal buries Basel, wins group on Perez hat trick; Man City draws

Arsenal's Lucas Perez, back left, and Mesut Oezil, back right, cheer after Arsenal's second goal during their Champions League Group stage Group A soccer match between Switzerland's FC Basel 1893 and England's Arsenal FC in the St. Jakob-Park stadium in Basel, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Benfica and Napoli secured the two knockout round berths available Tuesday, and Arsenal ended up surprise Group A winners on a Champions League match day with a lot of dead rubber.

[ MORE: Ref attack could trigger Argentine strike ]


Basel 1-4 Arsenal

Look what Arsenal has in the cupboard.

Lucas Perez’s second Champions League appearance for the Gunners was a runaway success, as the 28-year-old Spaniard nailed a hat trick by the 47th minute of Arsenal’s X-0 win over Basel on Tuesday.

Perez scored 17 goals for Deportivo de la Coruna last season, but entered Tuesday with under 500 minutes for Arsenal this season. An ankle injury had cost him a month on the sidelines.

Alex Iwobi scored the Gunners’ fourth goal. Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Kieran Gibbs provided assists in the win.

Seydou Doumbia scored late for the hosts.


Manchester City 1-1 Celtic

With nothing on the line but pride and experience, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola used a lot of youth on Tuesday against Celtic.

The City manager tapped Pablo Zabaleta as a defensive center mid next to Fernando, and used Bacary Sagna as a center back while youngsters Pablo Maffeo and Tosin Adarabioyo got starts in the back.

Celtic's Emilio Izaguirre, left, and City's Pablo Maffeo challenge for the ball during the Champions League group C soccer match between Manchester City and Celtic at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.(AP Photo/Dave Thompson))
Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre and City’s Maffeo (AP Photo/Dave Thompson).

 

Unfortunately (fortunately?) for Pep, the first City man to score was on loan at Celtic. Young Patrick Roberts, scooped up from Fulham last season, netted in the fourth minute against City’s unorthodox back six.

City broke through courtesy of Kelechi Iheanacho, and it was 1-1 at the break. Nolito had one pulled back for offside just after the match restarted in Manchester. City was also denied a penalty kick for handball.

City keeper Wily Caballero was called upon a few times in the second half, as Celtic and its noisy traveled fans were prepared to make a memory.


Elsewhere
Barcelona 4-0 Monchengladbach — Hat trick for Arda Turan
PSG 2-2 Ludogorets — Shock draw at the Parc des Princes
Dynamo Kiev 6-0 Besiktas — Red card dooms Turkish side
Benfica 1-2 Napoli — Jose Callejon nets Napoli opener
Bayern Munich 1-0 Atletico Madrid — Lewandowski ruins perfection for Atleti
Eindhoven 0-0 Rostov

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Argentina referees could strike after official is attacked

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07:  Referee Cuneyt Cakir  reacts during the Men's Group D first round match between Argentina and Algeria during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentina’s union of referees has threatened to go on strike to protest the brutal attack on an official by angry fans.

Union director Guillermo Marconi says the group wants to launch the stoppage after the attack on referee Claudio Elichiri.

The violence broke out Sunday after Elichiri failed to award a penalty in favor of local team Sarmiento in a decisive regional league game against Sansinena.

[ MORE: Vieira on NYCFC offseason, Mix Diskerud ]

Sansinena scored a goal right after, putting them ahead 2-1. Irate fans invaded the field and the referee expelled several protesting Sarmiento players and suspended the game, enraging local fans and players.

Elichiri escaped with the help of some Sarmiento players. He told local radio that he had to get stitches under his eye and is still hurting from bruises.

Champions League AT HALF – Arsenal leads; Man City level, Messi, Lewandowski score (video)

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left dribbles with the ball during the Champions League, Group C, soccer match between FC Barcelona and Borussia Moenchengladbach at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday Dec. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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The stars are out on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League, as Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski are among those with first half goals in the final group stage matches of the 2016-17 campaign.

Barcelona 1-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

Having played one less game than his megawatt rival, Lionel Messi is now a goal away from equaling Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for most goals in a UEFA Champions League group stage.

Manchester City 1-1 Celtic

Loanee Patrick Roberts probably enjoyed scoring against his parent club, as Celtic took an early lead, but Kelechi Iheanacho didn’t take long to level things at the Etihad Stadium.

City is fielding an interesting back six, with Pablo Zabaleta as one of its holding mids and Bacary Sagna slid inside to pair with youngster Tosin Adarabioyo.

PSG 0-1 Ludogorets Razgrad

Virgil Misidjan gives the visitors a surprising lead…

Basel 0-2 Arsenal

…and a Lucas Perez double has the Londoners on pace to win the group.

Dynamo Kyiv 3-0 Besiktas

Artem Biesiedin’s goal has been buttressed by an Andriy Yarmolenko penalty and a third tally courtesy of Vitaliy Buyalskiy, as Napoli and Benfica look set to go through.

Bayern Munich 1-0 Atletico Madrid

Robert Lewandowski strikes with a nasty free kick for the hosts, who will finish second in the group regardless of result.

Elsewhere
Benfica 0-0 Napoli
PSV Eindhoven 0-0 Rostov

Follow @NicholasMendola

Patrick Vieira discusses Mix Diskerud and NYCFC’s offseason plans

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 22:  Former professional football player and Western Union Pass Ambassador, Patrick Vieira, speaks with press at the Beyond Soccer Series Powered By streetfootballworld at Thomson Reuters Building on June 22, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Beyond Soccer Series)
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While the general feel of Tuesday’s MLS MVP ceremony in New York City was upbeat for New York City FC, the club has a challenging road ahead this offseason as they look to retool ahead of 2017.

[ MORE: David Villa wins 2016 Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors ]

Captain and star striker David Villa accepted honors on Tuesday as the Landon Donovan MLS MVP after notching 23 goals and four assists for the Eastern Conference, but outside of the Spaniard the team will have several noticeable holes that need plugging prior to next season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira proved to be a strong hire in his first season with the club, but his potential success moving forward will be dictated by how he and technical director Claudio Reyna fill out the rest of the roster.

Key pieces such as Frank Lampard and Andoni Iraola have since left the club after providing stability in the midfield this past season, while Jason Hernandez, Claudio Bravo and Steven Mendoza were among the other roster casualties following the team’s first playoff appearance in 2016.

While Vieira admits losing players like Lampard certainly presents a challenge, the Frenchman believes that NYCFC can just as easily recruit more talented members in the buildup to next season.

“Of course we lost Frank [Lampard],” Vieira said. “We lose some other players as well. We have to bring some new players. Something that is very important to us is that we have to be better and we have to bring players that can match out targets and we have different options on the table.

“You would not believe how many players would love to play for New York City FC. We will have some difficult decisions to make and it’s important for us to bring the right people, like David, because it’s important to bring people who want to come, people who want to work hard, prepare to sacrifice themselves for the football club because we have to do well next year.

As it stands, NYCFC currently has 18 players under contract ahead of the 2017 season, including two Designated Players (Villa and Andrea Pirlo).

One name that certainly jumps out on the list of 18 though is U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Mix Diskerud, who has seen more downs than ups in his two seasons in the Bronx. After making 27 appearances for NYCFC in the team’s inaugural season, Diskerud’s playing time was dwindled down significantly in 2016 under Vieira to just nine starts in 12 overall appearances.

The 26-year-old was the fourth-highest paid player on NYCFC in 2016 — making $761,250 — however, he scored just one goal and added two assists. The club is still looking to figure out the best way to handle the Diskerud situation though, according to Vieira.

“He’s looking for playing time,” Vieira said. “We’re having discussions with him and trying to find the best way to satisfy both Mix and ourselves.”