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World Cup: Best players never to feature at the World Cup

The late great George Best would have celebrated his 76th birthday on Sunday, but is he the greatest player never to feature at the FIFA World Cup?

Best enjoyed an iconic club career with Manchester United, helping the Red Devils to two league titles and their first European Cup success in 1968 when he scored in the final against Benfica at Wembley.

The mercurial winger won the Ballon d'Or in the same year as that European triumph, but he was unable to enjoy the same success on the international stage with Northern Ireland, despite winning 37 caps during a 13-year international career.

He was part of the Northern Ireland teams that failed to qualify for the World Cups of 1966, 70 and 74, and by the time the Green and White Army did reach the finals in 1982, Best's career was all but over.

Northern Ireland also did not qualify for any European Championships during Best's playing days, which meant he never featured at a major international tournament, a crying shame given his talents, but is he the best player never to grace a World Cup?

We have taken a look at four other footballing greats that never featured at the World Cup finals.

George Weah - Liberia

Liberian George Weah is one of the greatest African footballers of all time, with the former Monaco, Paris Siant-Germain and AC Milan forward picking up three African Footballer of the Year awards as well as the Ballon d'Or in 1995.

Weah was part of the dominant AC Milan team of the 1990s, winning two league titles during his time in Italy, while later in his career he had brief spells in England with Chelsea and Manchester City.

However, hailing from a country the size of Liberia it was always going to be difficult for Weah to reach a World Cup finals, and despite scoring 18 goals in 75 international appearances, he could never quite guide the Lone Star to the main event.

Weah did inspire Liberia to the finals of two African Cup of Nations in 1996 and 2002, to date the only two occasions the country has qualified for that tournament.

Eric Cantona - France

English football fans know all about the qualities of Eric Cantona from his time with Leeds and, most notably, Manchester United, but the mercurial Frenchman may not be quite as fondly remembered in his homeland, despite scoring 20 goals in 45 international appearances for France.

Cantona's international career spanned eight years from 1987-1995, but France failed to qualify for both World Cups that took place during that time in 1990 and 1994.

While Cantona was not directly involved in the squad that failed to qualify in 1990 (due to a falling out with then boss Henri Michel) he was part of the team that missed out four years later, thanks to a famous defeat to Bulgaria in their final qualifier.

Despite this, Cantona was named captain of France by new boss Aime Jacquet in 1994, but soon after his international career was over following his infamous Kung-Fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter while playing for Manchester United.

France went on to win the World Cup in 1998 on home soil, with Cantona, who had retired from playing altogether the previous year, having to watch on as the man that replaced him in the Les Bleus line-up, Zinedine Zidane, scored two goals in the final against Brazil.

Ryan Giggs - Wales

Another Manchester United great to miss out on the World Cup was Ryan Giggs, who at club level is one of the most decorated footballers of all time having won 34 major honours during a 24-year career, including a record 13 Premier League titles.

However, Giggs was unable to transfer that success at club level onto the international stage with Wales, as the Dragons never qualified for a major tournament during the 16 years he represented his country.

Giggs, who was born in England and played for the country of his birth at youth level, had long since retired from international football when Wales did finally reach a first major tournament in 58 years when they made it all the way to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

Wales are also on the cusp of reaching a first World Cup since 1958 this year, as they have a play-off to come against either Ukraine or Scotland early next month.

Alfredo Di Stefano – Argentina, Colombia, and Spain

While most players only get the chance to represent one country on the international stage, Real Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano played for three, but despite making a combined 41 appearances for Argentina, Colombia and Spain, he never featured at a World Cup.

Nationality rules were not as strict during Di Stefano's playing days, so after failing to qualify for the World Cup with Argentina (the country of his birth) and Colombia, the forward switched allegiances to Spain after gaining his citizenship in 1957.

Spain narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 1958 World Cup, but Di Stefano looked like he'd finally get his chance on the global stage four years later, only for a muscular injury to rule him out of the tournament and thus bring his international career to an end.

Di Stefano may not have made it to the World Cup, but he did enjoy plenty of success at club level with Real, winning five European Cups in a row between 1956-1960, as well as twice being named European Footballer of the Year.

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