Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn admits he is gutted not to be lining up against Brazil in a World Cup glamour clash in Russia tomorrow.
Instead the 30-year-old will suffer a summer of frustration after Northern Ireland were denied a World Cup spot by a controversial penalty in a 1-0 play-off loss to Switzerland.
Having starred in Euro 2016 where he netted a memorable goal in a 2-0 group victory over Ukraine, the winger had hoped to complete the double by playing in the world’s biggest football party this summer.
Instead McGinn will have to watch the action from his Granite City home.
The Dons are set to report for pre-season training next Friday but McGinn has cut his summer short and will report back to Pittodrie early to work with the physios having suffered from a groin injury at the end of last season.
He aims to hit the ground running in pre-season but reckons he should be out in Russia at the World Cup.
McGinn said: “It is a massive frustration.
“If you miss out on the World Cup through the play-offs after losing 3-0 or 4-0 then you hold your hands up.
“However, a refereeing decision cost us. It just shows the fine margins in football.
“Switzerland are a very good side but over in Basel in the second leg (0-0) I thought we were far better.
“We created the better chances and on another time it could have been our night.
“Looking back we probably shot ourselves in the foot as we were maybe a bit more cautious at home than we usually are.”
With no World Cup action McGinn has opted to return to Pittodrie a week earlier than the rest of the squad to ensure he can make an immediate impact in the new campaign.
Aberdeen enter the Europa League at the second qualifying round on July 26 and discover their opponents in Wednesday’s draw.
McGinn said: “I had a frustrating end to the last campaign picking up a few niggly injuries but I’ve had a good break now which has been really beneficial.
“We come back near the end of June but I’m going in around a week prior to that to give myself time with the physios before I go back into full training.
“I want to get myself ready to go and am determined to do well for the team.
“I’m really excited about the season as we have European football and I really look forward to those games at the start of the campaign.
“Hopefully we can do well in the Europa League then make a strong start domestically, which can build belief we can have another good season.”
This summer though McGinn and his Northern Ireland team-mates will be left considering what could have been after the disappointment of the play-off loss to the Swiss.
In the first leg at Windsor Park last November Ricardo Rodriguez scored the only goal of the play-off from the spot after Corry Evans was adjudged to have handled.
The ball clearly struck the defender’s shoulder.
It prevented Northern Ireland a second straight finals appearance having advanced to the Euro 2016 knock-out phase in the nation’s first appearance at a major finals since World Cup 1986.
“Having experienced the Euros and all that followed from that tournament it is very frustrating not to be at the World Cup,” said McGinn.
“It was an unbelievable experience and I saw just how much it meant to the people of Northern Ireland and that group of players.
“To go to another tournament would have been incredible, especially the World Cup.”
Following the World Cup play-offs the SFA made a botched attempt to secure Northern Ireland boss O’Neill as replacement for Gordon Strachan whose contract was not renewed.
O’Neill rejected the SFA’s advances and opted to sign a new contract until 2024.
“It is one of those ones where we didn’t qualify so we just have to keep moving forward,” said McGinn.
“We are happy the manager has stayed and things are very positive in Northern Ireland at the moment.”
The play-off disappointment had added poignancy for McGinn as he watched it from the other side of the world in South Korea having moved to Gwangju after rejecting a new deal at Pittodrie at the end of the 2016-17 season.
The switch to the K League did not work out as he dropped out of the international reckoning and struggled to get regular game time at Gwangju.
He said: “I was left out of the squad for the play-offs which was disappointing as I am an experienced player.
“I wasn’t playing much club football at the time so I couldn’t really have an answer to that.
“However, I have shown in the past that even when I have been on the bench and called upon I have always done a good job.
“I came on and scored in the Euros and played my part in that campaign as well.
“Being an experienced player it was disappointing I wasn’t involved.”
Following Gwangju’s relegation and change of manager McGinn’s contract was terminated by mutual consent, opening the way to a Pittodrie return where he penned a three-and-a-half year deal in January.
It propelled McGinn back into the international reckoning as he was selected for the squad to face South Korea in March but had to pull out through injury.
He also missed out on the end-of-season friendlies away to Panama (0-0) and Costa Rica (3-0 loss) with a groin injury that ruled him out of the final games of the domestic season.
He sat out the 1-0 win against Celtic at Parkhead.
McGinn said: “The lads went into that game knowing if Rangers won at Hibs and we lost, Rangers would finish second – so to achieve what we did was fantastic.
“To finish above Rangers was huge considering the financial side of things and the difference in that aspect between the two clubs.
“I’m not sure we were recognised as much as we should have been for that.
“It was probably our best achievement in the league under Derek McInnes.”