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5 stars who won't be playing at the World Cup

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PARIS (AP) - They are some of soccer's biggest names, but they won't be playing at the World Cup next year. A look at five players whose absence will make the tournament in Brazil a lesser spectacle.


ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC: There is no point watching the World Cup because Ibrahimovic won't be playing in it _ at least that's what he says. While the striker has always been his own biggest fan, he does have a point that the tournament will not be as exciting without him. The 32-year-old is in the best form of his career and has shown his full repertoire of spectacular goals: Martial arts-style volleys, overhead kicks from 30 yards, dipping shots from all angles. In the last calendar year, he has 47 goals for Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden _ including four hat tricks. He has also set many up with his clever flicks.

GARETH BALE: The Wales winger will be hoping he doesn't follow in the footsteps of his illustrious countryman Ryan Giggs _ who won everything with Manchester United but never played in a World Cup. The 24-year-old Bale is starting to find his best form with Real Madrid following his world-record transfer from Tottenham this summer. Last season, he scored 21 league goals for Spurs, and his combination of power, searing pace, and an incredibly hard shot make him a nightmare to defend against. Defenders in Brazil will be thankful that they won't have to deal with him.

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI: The Borussia Dortmund striker burst onto the scene in last season's Champions League when he outshone Cristiano Ronaldo to score four goals against Real Madrid in the semifinals. The 25-year-old Pole has 63 goals in 110 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund and is widely recognized as one of the best forwards in Europe. He is crying out for a chance to showcase his strength, but Poland had such a tough qualifying group that it ended up finishing fourth behind England, Ukraine and Montenegro.

PETR CECH: With more than 100 international caps, the Chelsea player has long been established as one of the top goalkeepers in the world and has proved a veritable rock for his country. At last year's European Championship, he kept the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals with a series of stunning saves against Portugal, until Ronaldo beat him with a late goal. His reliability, stunning reflexes, strength coming out on corners and set pieces, mean that those who score against him truly earn it. Strikers will be happier that he's not around in Brazil.

CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN: Major tournaments usually reveal a rising star: The 20-year-old Enzo Scifo for Belgium and Michael Laudrup for Denmark in 1986. Laudrup was 21 when he shone in Mexico, the same age as Christian Eriksen is now. His silky skill and quick-thinking brain has drawn comparisons to Laudrup, and Eriksen is seen as the future of Danish soccer. However, being pitted in a qualifying group with Italy and the Czech Republic meant Denmark was always going to drop points, and it failed to make the playoffs as one of the best second-place teams. Eriksen will never know if he could have emulated Laudrup.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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