Soccer player before a Uefa Champions League match.

Colombia’s best player James Rodriguez missed his team’s dramatic last-16 defeat to England but at least the playmaker made it to the World Cup before getting injured. We compile a list of the best XI players – missing either due to injury or non-selection – who could have made a difference for their nations in Russia. Given Argentina, Germany and Spain’s issues, it comes as no surprise that players from these teams feature heavily...

Goalkeeper: Sergio Romero

A knee injury ruled out Romero, a veteran stopper who has 94 caps for Argentina. His replacement Willy Cabellero endured a World Cup to forget, finding himself dropped after two mediocre performances.

Defenders: Benedikt Howedes, Laurent Koscielny, Marcos Alonso, Dani Alves

A robust defender, Howedes was a key member of Germany’s 2014 squad but was overlooked due to an injury-riddled season for his club Schalke. A ruptured Achilles tendon in May ruled out France and Arsenal stalwart Koscielny, while Spain and Chelsea full-back Alonso was deemed surplus to Spain’s requirements ahead of the tournament. Dani Alves, meanwhile, capped more than 100 times for Brazil, missed out due to a knee injury.

Midfielders:  Cesc Fabregas, Radja Nainggolan, Mario Goetze, Leroy Sane  

Another Chelsea player Fabregas was also omitted from the Spanish squad, which struggled in Russia without the 2010 World Cup winner’s experience and quality. Nainggolan has been one of Roma’s best players in recent seasons but Belgium boss Roberto Martinez decided against taking the combative midfielder to Russia. Another former winner, Goetze starred for Germany in 2014 but failed to make the cut for Joachim Loew’s underperforming squad, and neither did compatriot Sane, who enjoyed a standout season in England with Manchester City.

Forwards: Alvaro Morata, Mario Icardi

Spain’s strength in depth is impressive as Morata, who scored five goals in qualifying, missed out with Diego Costa preferred up front. With firepower including Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero, Argentina had no place for Icardi, even though he scored 29 goals for Inter Milan this season. Given that Argentina struggled in Russia, the tall and strong Icardi would have been a powerful alternative to the likes of Messi and Aguero who are less physical in their approach.

Reserves

Goalkeepers: Sven Ulreich (Germany), Joe Hart (England)

Defenders: Javi Martinez (Spain), Aymeric Laporte (France), Alex Sandro (Brazil)

Midfielders: Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (both England), Fabinho (Brazil), Diego Perotti (Argentina)

Forwards: Alexandre Lacazette, Anthony Martial (all France)

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