Playing at a World Cup finals is every player’s dream: Many superstars retired without even stepping foot in the tournament. While the world focuses on South Africa, thousands of players will look on, watching, cheering and jeering as the bald-headed trophy is competed for. The experience of standing on the sidelines is not one any player would want to endure, yet, with this World Cup the very first in Africa, the pain is even harder for a number of the continent’s stars.

Here are African football’s most notable absentees from countries who didn’t make it:

Ahmed Hassan (Egypt)
Al-Ahly (Egypt)

The Egyptian captain has a total of four African Cup of Nations winners’ medals and a vast number of individual and career awards. At the age of 35, the workaholic midfielder is still one of the most valuable assets in Egyptian football and is currently the most capped player on the continent, and third in the world.

Mohamed Aboutrika (Egypt)
Position: Midfielder
Club: Al-Ahly (Egypt)

One of the few African based players who could claim a spot and regular first team football in many top sides around the globe. The attack minded midfielder has been nominated alongside European based African players Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien amongst others for the African Player of the Year award in recent years. Aboutrika was also judged Egypt’s best player for four consecutive years from 2004 to 2007.

Mamadou Niang (Senegal)
Position: Forward
Club: Olympique Marseille (France)

Senegal’s main star today and captain of the French champions Olympique Marseille. A speedy forward, Niang is technically gifted and possess a great eye for goal, one reason why he finished this year as top goalscorer in Ligue 1 with 18 goals. The World Cup will miss him and he could have shone in South Africa.

Mounir El Hamdaoui (Morocco)
Position: Midfielder
Club: AZ Alkmaar (Holland)

El Hamdaoui was born in Rotterdam, Holland, but chose to represent the country his parents hail from. The strong midfielder was the Eredivisie top goalscorer with 23 goals in 2008/09 and won the Dutch Player of the Year award that same year. This season the AZ Alkmaar midfielder finished with 20 goals, but won’t have the chance to take his surging runs and goalscoring exploits to South Africa.

Marouane Chamakh (Morocco)
Position: Forward
Club: Arsenal (England)

The new Gunners striker is currently acclimatising to a new country in his new home in England after arriving from 2008/09 Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux, where his goals made the club feared in the French football. A target for many major European sides this season, Chamakh’s aerial power would have been a delight to see at the World Cup.

Christopher Samba (Republic of Congo)
Position: Defender
Club: Blackburn Rovers (England)

Hard tackling defender Samba is one of the most respected centre backs around in the English Premier League. Strong in the air and dangerous from set pieces, Samba can also make runs into the opposition half that belie his position. His defensive qualities deserve to be showcased at a World Cup.

Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo)
Position: Forward
Club: Manchester City (England)

His form of late may have dropped a bit, but when presented with chances Adebayor does not waste many. It was the striker’s goals that led Togo to their first ever World Cup finals in Germany 2006, but that achievement was hard to repeat a spot at the first World Cup on African soil was not to be. Adebayor is one of the finest African strikers missing from the tournament.

Mario Balotelli (Italy/Ghana)
Position: Forward
Club: Inter (Italy)

A very talented player, known for making headlines off and on the pitch for all sort of reasons. The Inter forward, born of Ghanaian parents, snubbed repeated approaches from Ghana and made himself available for a dream place in the Azzurri. However, Marcello Lippi was not ready to bid farewell to his old guard yet, therefore Balotelli has to wait and look to the future. Ghana’s loss is Italy’s gain.

McDonald Mariga (Kenya)
Age: 23
Position: Midfielder
Club: Inter (Italy)

The midfielder, currently employed by Champions League winners Inter, is one of the few east African players plying their trade in European football. Mariga joined Jose Mourinho at the San Siro in the January transfer window from another Serie A club Parma, where he had established himself as a significant part of the team following his arrival from Swedish side Helsingborg. Unfortunately, playing for Kenya may mean World Cup appearances will be a rarity.