Friday 04 March 2022, 15:00

Star sextet’s last shot at the big stage?

  • We highlight six experienced stars hoping to reach their first FIFA World Cup soon

  • All represent nations with work to do to reach Qatar 2022

  • Two of the planet’s most outstanding performers of 2021 are among them

David Alaba

29 years old 91 caps 14 goals Alaba joined Bayern Munich amid considerable hype as a 16-year-old, and he has more than lived up to it since. With 27 club titles and a record eight Austrian Footballer of the Year awards to his name, he’s one of the most decorated footballers in history and occupies a VIP seat in the pantheon of Austrian greats. Unlike Matthias Sindelar, Ernst Ocwirk, Gerhard Hanappi, Bruno Pezzey, Herbert Prohaska and Toni Polster, though, one of the most versatile footballers this century has never got to parade his class and intellect on football’s most prestigious platform.

Austria’s path to Qatar 2022 Austria face Wales in Cardiff for a place in the UEFA Zone, Path A final. Scotland or Ukraine will await the winners. Other key players Christoph Baumgartner (Hoffenheim), Marcel Sabitzer (Bayern Munich), Marko Arnautovic (Bologna).

Did you know?

  • The Real Madrid player’s mother is a former Miss Philippines, while his father is a Nigerian prince who become Austria's first-ever black guard soldier and was a prominent musician and deejay. David’s sister Rose May, meanwhile, is a successful singer-songwriter.

  • Alaba is good friends with NFL superstar Odell Beckham Jr.

Gareth Bale

32 years old 100 caps 36 goals He has been the most expensive player in football history; electrifyingly inspired Wales’ greatest-ever campaign at UEFA EURO 2016; scored in multiple UEFA Champions League finals; seized the adidas Golden Ball at a FIFA Club World Cup™; scored sensational goals with military regularity; and is his country’s all-time second-most-capped player and leading marksman. Yet Bale has never appeared at the World Cup.

Wales’ route to Qatar 2022 Wales entertain Austria for a place in the UEFA Zone, Path A decider. The victors will move on to meet Scotland or Ukraine. Other key players Ben Davies (Tottenham), Aaron Ramsey (Rangers), Daniel James (Leeds).

Did you know?

  • Bale ran the 100 metres in 11.4 seconds as a 14-year-old and was tipped for a future in sprinting until he choose to pursue football.

Atiba Hutchinson

39 years old 92 caps 9 goals The man who made his international debut over 19 years ago insisted he was going to call it quits in 2019. However, his fine form for Besiktas and the emergence of Canada’s finest generation of players of all time persuaded him otherwise. What a decision that has proved for Hutchinson. The towering midfielder was instrumental as his club seized three trophies last year, and has been equally important to a Canada side sitting on the cusp of a first World Cup since Mexico 1986.

Canada’s route to Qatar 2022 Canada lead Concacaf qualifying with three rounds remaining, eight points clear of fourth-placed Panama, who occupy the intercontinental play-off position. John Herdman’s Canucks have probably done more than enough already, but one more victory would make absolutely sure of a trip to the Arabian Peninsula in November.

Other key players Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jonathan David (Lille), Cyle Larin (Besiktas). Did you know?

  • Hutchinson is nicknamed ‘The Octopus’. He has also been known as ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Perfect Machine’.

  • The Brampton, Ontario native has won a record six Canadian Men’s Soccer Player of the Year awards. The Canadian Soccer Association also named him in its all-time Canada XI.


30 years old 42 caps 5 goals Kevin De Bruyne, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah were the favourites to make 2021 their own. A player who, nevertheless, didn’t even make The Guardian’s compilation of ‘The 100 Best Male Footballers in the World’ for 2020 had more success than anyone. Jorginho was magnificent as Chelsea and Italy stunned and conquered Europe. He was named UEFA Men’s Player of the Year and came fifth in The Best FIFA Men’s Player running. The midfielder announced he wanted to represent Italy over Brazil in 2014, earned his first cap for the Azzurri two years later, was cut from the preliminary squad for UEFA EURO 2016, and was part of the side when the four-time global kings failed to reach a first World Cup in 60 years in 2017. This Italy is, however, an incalculable upgrade on that one. So, too, is this Jorginho.

Italy’s route to Qatar 2022 Italy host North Macedonia in Palermo for a place in the UEFA Zone, Path C final. The winners will face Portugal or Turkey for a ticket to Qatar. Other key players Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Federico Chiesa (Juventus).

Did you know?

  • The Imbituba, Brazil native moved to Italy on his own as a 15-year-old to pursue a football career. Living off 20 euros per week and having been exploited by an agent, he decided to quit the game a couple of years later, only to be told he had to stick it out by his mother.

  • The regista is known as ‘Radio Jorginho’ by his Nazionale team-mates for the way he directs matches and incessantly talks during them.

Edouard Mendy

30 years old 21 caps Mendy began 2015 unemployed – he had been released by Cherbourg when they were relegated into the French fourth flight seven months earlier – on benefits, frequenting job centres in recession-hit France and anguishing over how he was going to feed his first child, who was on his way. He is now The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper and has inspired Chelsea to UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup™ glory and Senegal to their first CAF Africa Cup of Nations crown. Born in France, Mendy represented Guinea-Bissau in a non-official friendly in late 2016 in honour of his late father, who was born there. He committed himself to Senegal, his mother’s birth nation, shortly thereafter, debuting for The Lions of Teranga months after Russia 2018.

Senenegal’s route to Qatar 2022 Senegal clash with Egypt over two legs later this month for a World Cup place. Though billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, ‘The Egyptian King’ has someone else to worry about: the planet’s present goalkeeping king. Other key players Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Idrissa Gueye (Paris Saint-Germain), Sadio Mane (Liverpool).

Did you know?

  • Edouard is cousins with Real Madrid and France left-back Ferland Mendy.

  • He is nicknamed ‘The Tall Doorkeeper’.

Duvan Zapata

30 years old 34 caps 4 goals How can the first Colombian to score 100 goals in the Italian Serie A, and a man responsible for one of the greatest scoring sprees in the tournament’s 123-year history, have never made a Cafeteros squad for the World Cup? The answer is that they have long had intense competition for places up front, with Colombia astonishingly fielding 15 strikers during Russia 2018 qualifying. Zapata only made his international debut in 2017 and was chopped from Jose Pekerman’s preliminary list for Russia 2018. If Colombia can make it to Qatar, though, it would be very hard to leave the menacing sharpshooter off their flight.

Colombia’s route to Qatar 2022 Colombia have serious work to do to reach Qatar 2022. Four points off the intercontinental play-off berth, and five shy of an automatic qualification position, Reinaldo Rueda’s side will nonetheless be confident of taking maximum points from their final two outings: Bolivia at home and Venezuela away.


Other key players Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), James Rodriguez (Al Rayyan), Luis Diaz (Liverpool). Did you know?

  • Zapata curiously wears the No91 jersey, popularised by Dennis Rodman at the Chicago Bulls and Sergei Fedorov at the Detroit Red Wings, for Atalanta.

  • The man from Padilla responded to being excluded from Colombia’s final squad for Russia 2018 rapidly and emphatically: later that year he became the first player since Gunnar Nordahl in 1950 to score over eight Serie A goals in a calendar month.