Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have made it to next year's World Cup but Arjen Robben, Alexis Sanchez, and Gareth Bale will not grace the tournament in Russia with their presence. Messi scored a hat trick when it really mattered to lift Argentina 3-1 past hosts Ecuador, and Ronaldo's Portugal won a winner-take-all match 2-0 against Switzerland Tuesday. While Russian organizers and FIFA marketing officials likely all had a big sigh of relief to have the two icons at the World Cup, others were not so lucky. Robben's brace in a Dutch 2-0 over Sweden was to no avail as the 2010 runners-up and 2014 third-place finishers fell five goals short and missed out on a second consecutive major event following Euro 2016. Alexis Sanchez also failed to qualify with two-time reigning Copa America champions Chile, as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat to Brazil.
The U.S. were another prominent casualty as the regular qualifying stages in Europe, South America and the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region ended as the list of big-name players missing out on the World Cup grew longer with Wales' Gareth Bale and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon.
With 848 out of a total 871 qualifying matches completed, 23 teams, including hosts Russia, have confirmed their places in football's biggest tournament. The qualifiers have so far produced 2,416 goals, 2,884 yellow cards and 148 red cards, according to the ruling body FIFA. The remaining nine teams will be decided in four European playoff ties to be drawn on Oct. 17.
Meanwhile, the last round of group games in Africa, where three berths remain to be decided, will be played over this week and the next. On the other hand, the intercontinental playoff ties, in which winners of the Oceania Zone New Zealand take on Peru and CONCACAF Zone's Honduras face Australia, will take place in November. Messi said: "It would have been crazy for Argentina to miss the World Cup," and the rest of the world seemingly thought likewise. Messi's long-time rival for the World Player of the Year, Ronaldo, also made it without a possible playoff detour as Portugal held off the Swiss who dropped their first points. The Swiss must now hope to survive November playoffs which will also feature four-time World Cup winners Italy, Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and Sweden.
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