Cristiano Ronaldo is heading to Qatar, but Mohamed Salah isn't and neither is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose dream of becoming the first outfield player to bridge a 16-year gap between appearances at the World Cup fizzled out in a late, fruitless substitute rescue act for Sweden in Poland.
Every World Cup takes place with at least one leading player or major nation failing to qualify, but as the European and African sections came to a close (the conflict in Ukraine means that one spot is still to be assigned in the UEFA zone), the big names absentees are beginning to mount up.
Liverpool forward Salah, a potential Ballon d'Or winner this year, suffered his second penalty shoot-out heartbreak in less than two months as Egypt missed out on qualification by losing to Senegal -- a repeat of their Africa Cup of Nations final loss to the same team.
And Ibrahimovic, who will be 41 when Qatar 2022 begins, can forget about returning to the World Cup stage for the first time -- and probably last, but who knows with Zlatan? -- since failing to score at Germany 2006 after his return from international retirement came to nothing. Robert Lewandowski's second-half penalty in Chorzow set Poland on the way to a 2-0 win and qualification for Qatar, ensuring that the Bayern Munich forward -- for many observers, the best centre-forward in the game -- will be at football's biggest party when the World Cup is staged in November and December.
Salah and Ibrahimovic will join Norway's Erling Haaland, who scored twice in a 9-0 win against Armenia on Tuesday, as World Cup absentees. Two of football's biggest stars right now and a player who has been at the top of the game for over a decade, none of them will be in Qatar. And we haven't even mentioned Italy, who have become the first European champions since Greece (winners in 2004) to fail to qualify for the World Cup.
FIFA can be thankful that at least Ronaldo and his star-studded Portugal team will be in Qatar. Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Lewandowski will all bring their celebrity and class to the tournament, but none of them could be described as the next generation, or even players at their peak. All three have been superstars of the modern game, but Qatar will almost certainly be their last World Cup.