The FIFA World Cup is officially the most widely viewed and followed sporting event on the planet, far exceeding even that of the Olympic Games. The tournament has been held every four years since its inaugural competition in 1930, with the exception of 1942 and 1946 when WWII prevented it from being played. Its reputation and renown mean it is widely regarded as the most sought after trophy in world football, and by far the most sought after in the international game.
Given that most players careers are between 15-20 years long and their prime perhaps only five years, the majority do not get the chance to appear in many World Cups. The most World Cups a player has featured in is five, but this is very rare, and most top players will only appear in two or three, and that is only if they originate from a nation with a national team strong enough to qualify.
This is a list of only active players, accounting for both their current ability, previous ability and achievements within the game. Of course, any country could win the World Cup, but by factoring in the players' age and the strength of their national team, we can say with a certain amount of confidence that these players are unlikely to ever win a World Cup. Here are the top 15 players who will never win a World Cup:
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15 Petr Cech
Petr Cech has been one of the outstanding players of the Premier League era, and perhaps second only to Peter Schmeichel in terms of the league's goalkeepers. The Arsenal shot-stopper previously spent 11 highly successful years at Chelsea, winning 15 trophies, most notably four Premier League titles and one Champions League. Still only 33, Cech already holds the record for the most Premier League clean sheets, with 172 in 345 games to this date. Playing for the Czech Republic, Cech may appear in another World Cup but is highly unlikely to win the tournament.
14 Henrikh Mkhitaryan
One of the stand-out players in the Borussia Dortmund team this season, Henrikh Mkitaryan has become a terrific midfield talent, with great technique, passing ability and even becoming a fairly regular goal scorer. Playing internationally for Armenia, at the age of 26 the midfielder already has 55 caps, but in a really poor national team, he is unlikely to even play at a World Cup. Armenia have never qualified for a World Cup or European Championships, and Mkhitaryan is already the country's all-time top scorer.
13 Luka Modric
After a shaky first season at Real Madrid, Luka Modric is now a key man at the Bernabeu. A very gifted playmaker, Modric was deployed largely as an attacking midfielder or out wide at Tottenham, but had been played a little deeper since joining Real Madrid. Modric was named both Tottenham Player of the Year in 2010-11 and La Liga Best Midfielder for 2013-14.
Aged 30, Modric has won 87 caps for his country - Croatia - playing in two World Cups. He most likely has another World Cup left in him but his chances of winning the competition are very remote.
12 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
A revelation for Borussia Dortmund this season, scoring 23 goals in 21 games, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is renowned for his explosive pace, but has added composure and ruthlessness to his repertoire this season it would seem. In a sub-par Gabon national team, Aubemyang is unfortunately unlikely to ever play in a World Cup, never mind win the competition. The country has never qualified for a World Cup and often fails to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations.
11 David Alaba
Still only 23 years of age, David Alaba is arguably the best left-back in the world already. The Bayern Munich star has all the attacking attributes required of a modern full-back as well as being sound defensively in a watertight Bayern defense. Alaba is an athletic player but also has fine technique, which has often seen him played in midfield.
He has played almost 200 games in five years at Bayern, winning 12 trophies, but his national team haven't reached a World Cup since 1998, and even if Austria were to qualify during Alaba's career, it would take a miracle for them to win the competition.
10 Arturo Vidal
Unlike some on this list, Arturo Vidal is likely to play in a couple more World Cups with Chile and has already played in two. Vidal, who has been highly regarded in Europe since joining Bayer Leverkusen in 2007, has won 73 caps for his country. Commonly deployed as a box-to-box midfielder, Vidal has excellent athletic abilities, capable of breaking up play and launching attacks.
He has won 10 trophies at club level and even won the Copa America with Chile earlier this year, but few would have the South Americans down as potential World Cup winners anytime soon.
9 Yaya Toure
The Ivory Coast are certainly a national team which has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, with the likes of Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and others playing at the highest level. However, that crop of players was widely regarded as something of a golden generation for the African nation, and many of their careers are coming to a close. With Toure himself aged 32 he probably only has the 2018 World Cup left, which the Ivory Coast are 250/1 to win with some bookies, suggesting their chances are slim at best.
8 Ivan Rakitic
A Croatian international teammate of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic is a similar player in some respects. Upon joining Barcelona he often kept Xavi out of the side, ultimately leading to the Barca legends departure, and indication of how highly regarded Rakitic is in Catalonia. In his first season at Barcelona, Rakitic won the La Liga title, the Champions League, the Copa del Rey and the Super Cup. At the age of 27, he has 75 caps for Croatia and has played in one World Cup, in 2014, and although he could feature in another two, it seems very unlikely him lifting the World Cup.
7 James Rodriguez
Having reached the Quarter-Finals of the 2014 World Cup, it may seem a little hasty to rule out the chance of Colombia winning a World Cup in James Rodriguez's career, but here is our reasoning. In 2014, Colombia had the likes of Rodriguez, Ospina, Zapata, Armero, Zuniga, Guarin, Martinez and more all in, or close to, their prime. In addition, the 2014 tournament was held in South America, a climate the team's players were most acclimatized to. All this means the chances of Colombia winning a World Cup in Rodriguez's career are slim.
6 Arjen Robben
While the Netherlands are traditionally footballing powerhouses, having reached three World Cup finals, the most recent of which in 2010, and two semi-finals, after much thought, I think one can say with some confidence that Arjen Robben will not win the World Cup. The Bayern Munich winger is 31 already, very injury prone, has only one World Cup left in him, and having failed to even qualify for Euro 2016, the Netherlands national team is in crisis. A former Real Madrid and Chelsea player, Robben has won a highly impressive 21 trophies at club level, and was nominated for the 2014 Ballon d'Or.
5 Alexis Sanchez
Similarly to his compatriot Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez has played in two World Cups and is likely to play in a couple more, still aged only 26. A former Barcelona star who now graces the Premier League with Arsenal, Sanchez is tough and tenacious as well as having spark and genius in his feet. He has scored 32 goals in 69 games since joining the Gunners and has already won an incredible 91 caps despite being in his mid-20s. Sanchez may well light up at least one more World Cup, but his chances of winning are slim. The bookies have Chile down as 40/1 outsiders for 2018.
4 Robert Lewandowski
'Created by Klopp, perfected by Pep,' read the recent cover of 'FourFourTwo' magazine, accompanying a picture of the Polish striker who has reached new heights this season. Lewandowski has been one of the most highly regarded forwards in Europe for almost five seasons now, but his 5 goals in 9 minutes in September of this year cemented his place among Europe's elite. Sadly, his national team, Poland, are not among the world or Europe's elite.
The country have failed to qualify for five of the last seven World Cups, including the two most recent in 2010 and 2014. They currently stands as 200/1 outsiders to win the 2018 tournament, and aged 27, their fortunes are unlikely to change a great deal during Lewandowski's career.
3 Gareth Bale
The Welsh national team just qualified for their first major tournament since 1958, but the chances of the winning a World Cup are around nil. Bale is far more likely to never play in a World Cup than to win one, given that Wales have only ever qualified for one World Cup and that was almost 60 years ago.
With blistering pace and a fantastic left foot, Bale is one of the best players in the world, and has scored 30 goals in 65 La Liga games since joining Real Madrid, scoring winners in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals. He has scored 19 goals in 54 caps for Wales.
2 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
A complete striker who is powerful, technical and prolific, as well as capable of producing some moments of sheer magic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is quite rightly regarded as one of the best players of his generation. The Swede has scored 349 goals in 631 games in his career to date, for the likes of Juventus, Barcelona, AC Milan and PSG. He has been equally sharp in front of goal at international level, scoring 62 goals in 111 games for Sweden, but despite playing in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, Zlatan and Sweden have failed to qualify for the last two tournaments in 2010 and 2014. Aged 34, Zlatan has - at best - one tournament left in him, if that, and Sweden's chances of winning are slim to say the least.
1 Cristiano Ronaldo
A slightly controversial choice perhaps, as Portugal do have some considerable talent at their disposal, but one which has been carefully thought out. The fact is, Ronaldo is 30 already, and having stated his intention to leave the sport before any considerable decline sets in, he is likely to only have one more World Cup left in him. While victory at the 2018 World Cup would be the perfect way to end a magnificent career, Ronaldo will be 33, while Pepe, Bruno Alves, Danny and others will also have aged considerably. The current Portugal squad includes players from the English second tier, showing their lack of talent pool at this moment in time.
All this means Portugal currently have odds of 33/1 to win the 2018 World Cup, likely to be Ronaldo's last, which is longer odds than England, Holland and Colombia, and the same as Russia and Chile.
To conclude, Ronaldo only has one more shot at a World Cup, and most within the game would agree that Portugal's chances in Russia look slim. For this reason his inclusion is justified, and as a three-time Ballon d'Or winner who has scored 449 goals in 639 games, he quite rightly tops this list.
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