However, there are many quality players that, unfortunately, have never graced the most prestigious competition in Football. Some had terrible luck with injuries. Some played for smaller nations who never qualified, while others missed out for reasons beyond their control.
At your home of Football Betting, we have picked out eight of the most iconic players who have never played at the World Cup.
Dimitar Berbatov was one of Europe’s best strikers between 2001 and 2012. During that period, he scored 188 goals for three huge clubs in Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, winning two Premier League titles with the latter. He was also lethal for Bulgaria, averaging a goal every 1.62 games for his country. However, during his 11-year international career, the Lions failed to qualify for World Cups in Korea/Japan, Germany and South Africa.
Country: Northern Ireland
George Best was a genuinely iconic player during his time with Manchester United. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the Belfast-born ace netted 179 goals for the Red Devils and helped them win two First Division titles and the European Cup. Best also featured regularly for Northern Ireland during that period, but they never qualified for a World Cup. To rub salt into the wound, the Green and White Army did compete in the 1982 World Cup. Best was still playing at the time, but his peak years were firmly behind him, and he was not selected.
Widely regarded as the finest player Finland has produced, it was a great shame that we never got to see Jari Litmanen at a World Cup. He was a vital part of the Ajax team that won four league titles and the Champions League in the 1990s while also playing for Barcelona and Liverpool. He enjoyed an excellent international career, representing his country between 1989 and 2010. However, the Finns failed to qualify for a major international tournament during those 21 years, including the World Cup.
A man still playing at an extremely high level, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is one of the best African players never to have graced the World Cup. ‘Auba’ has been a prolific goal scorer during his career, netting for the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Barcelona and now Chelsea. He is Gabon’s all-time leading scorer, too and found the net in three editions of the Africa Cup of Nations. The striker announced his international retirement in 2022, with the west Africans failing to qualify for a World Cup during his 13-year career.
Ian Rush was one of the most prolific forwards English Football has ever seen. Over two spells at Liverpool, he netted 346 goals and helped them win five First Division titles, three FA Cups and two European Cups. Rush was also a key player for Wales for around 15 years, scoring memorable goals against the likes of Italy and Germany. However, he could not fire his side to World Cup qualification during his international career.
A Premier League icon, Eric Cantona made his name playing for Manchester United during the 1990s. He earned the nickname “King Eric” after scoring 82 goals and helping the Red Devils win four Premier League titles and two FA Cups. Cantona played for France during qualifying for the 1994 World Cup, but they missed out after a 90th minute goal for Bulgaria. Les Bleus did qualify in 1998 as hosts, but the forward had lost his place in the team by this point to Zinedine Zidane and retired. Frustratingly for Cantona, that was the year France won their first World Cup.
Many will argue that George Weah is the greatest African to have never played at the World Cup. The former striker enjoyed an outstanding career at club level, scoring 193 goals and winning multiple trophies while playing for the likes of Monaco, PSG, AC Milan and Chelsea. He was a regular for Liberia for around 20 years but could not help them qualify for the World Cup, a feat they are still yet to achieve. They almost made it in 2002 but were pipped by Nigeria.
Alfredo Di Stefano
Country: Argentina, Colombia, Spain
Caps: 6 (Argentina), 4 (Colombia), 31 (Spain)
Goals: 6 (Argentina), 23 (Spain)
Despite representing three countries during his illustrious career, Alfredo Di Stefano still never competed at a World Cup. Described as the “best ever” by Pele, the former striker scored 300+ goals, won eight La Liga titles and five European Cups while playing for Real Madrid. He initially represented Argentina, but they were banned from competing at the World Cup in 1950. He then played four times for Colombia but was deemed ineligible for the 1954 tournament having played for two countries. Finally, he became a Spanish citizen, but they did not qualify in 1958 and he was ruled out in 1962 due to injury.
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