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Missing Greats

Many writers, including myself, have lamented that this coming World Cup will be without Italy and the Netherlands. This is par for the course; there is usually a big name absent from international football’s quadrennial jamboree and, along with that, there are always the individual names to which we will be saying goodbye. It is a bittersweet pleasure.

This coming tournament will see the closing of an age dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The last player not one of these two who won the Ballon d'Or was Kaká and that was in 2007. But Ronaldo will be 33 by the time Russia 2018 rolls around and Messi 31 so both Portugal and Argentina will have to find a way to replace the irreplaceable.

Both also have teammates who will on the field for the last time. Sergio Ramos, Spain’s captain, (31) and Gerard Piqué (30) whose turbulent relationship with the Spanish fans had many wondering if he would call an end to his international career before the competition.

Laurent Koscielny (32) has already announced that 2018 will be his last run-out for Les Bleus while Olivier Giroud (31) has been making discontented noises at Arsenal about playing-time. He has valid cause for concern considering France’s young up and coming strikers.

Sami Khedira (30) has been getting edged out by the youngsters in the German national side for some time but he may still make one final outing. Mesut Özil (29) is a year younger and, of course, doesn't move as much so it is just conceivable that he could make Qatar 2022. Conceivable but unlikely.

Like Germany, England have a fairly young squad but there are outliers. If Ashley Young maintains his form he will turn 33 during the later stages of the tournament. Gary Cahill will remain 32 throughout. Let’s hope they get to celebrate Ashley’s birthday in Russia.

A selection of others possibly making their swansong will be John Obi Mikel (30); Jan Vertonghen (30); Kasper Schmeichel (31) and Carlos Vela (28) if he makes it at all. Vela’s stop and start career with Mexico suggests that he might wake up on the morning of the flight and decide that he doesn’t fancy it anymore.

All these observations, naturally, are based on the average international player and the lengths of their careers. There will always be anomalies. And an anomaly for the ages is Mr. Tim Cahill. Still playing at the age of 38 and scoring in the qualifiers that took Australia to this World Cup, he kind of makes everyone else look lazy and ill-disciplined. In fact, at this point, not only do I expect to see him in Russia, I wouldn’t bet against him turning up in Qatar too.

Leonard Apple.

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