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Ranked! The 10 best players of World Cup 2002

Ronaldo 2002

Nick Moore reels off the men who wowed, delighted and thrilled in Asia's first-ever World Cup

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10. Sol Campbell 

England weren’t particularly great at World Cup 2002 – although if-and-but merchants will point out that had Ronaldinho’s freak goal not somehow soared over David Seaman, only a highly winnable semi against Turkey would have stood between them and a highly winnable final against an average Germany outfit.

But the Three Lions' defence was pretty impressive: a sturdy Mills-Campbell-Ferdinand-Cole axis shielded by Nicky Butt, and Sol was their undoubted central cog.

A towering, calm presence, he scored his solitary international goal against Sweden in the group stages, and co-ordinated the backline as they conceded just once during the group stages and Round of 16 before meeting Brazil. He rightly made the team of the tournament.

9. Landon Donovan

Now a bona fide Red, White ‘n’ Blue legend, back in 2002 Landon was a 20 year-old San Jose Earthquakes rookie who’d struggled to adapt to life in Germany during a spell with Bayer Leverkusen.

Settling into the USA lineup was no problem whatsoever, mind: the Californian scored a deflected goal against Portugal as they won 3-2, and headed home a cracker against rivals Mexico in a famous second-round victory. They lost to Germany in the quarters, but his vision and footballing intelligence saw him voted as FIFA’s Best Young Player of the tournament.

8. El Hadji Diouf 

Oft-remembered on British shores as a scowly, spitty, cheating rotter, Diouf is also now widely reviled in Senegal, having been banned from the national side for five years in 2011 after failing to attend a disciplinary hearing (for the initial crime of calling African football “corrupt”).

A shame, because the twice African Footballer of the Year wasn’t just a man who could cause a riot in a Buddhist monastery. He was also a sensationally gifted attacking midfielder who was instrumental in the Lions of Teranga making it to the quarter-finals with his speed, vision and link play. 

7. Roberto Carlos

The tree-trunk thighed, 800mph-shot full-back-stroke-runaway steamroller played an astonishing 125 games for the Seleção between 1992 and 2006, but 2002 was his crowning glory.

With Brazil adopting a back three of Lucio, Edmilson and Junior, Carlos had the luxury of playing as a wing-back rather than as left-back in a four. Free to bustle forward more than he usually did (which was a lot) while Cafu did the same up the right, he was a vital part of Big Phil Scolari’s free-flowing outfit.

6. Michael Ballack

If Oliver Khan was Germany’s undoubted key man as his side conceded just one goal on a miraculous march towards the final, the Germans did at least need a little bit of ability outfield in order to function – and Ballack was streets ahead of his team-mates.

He bullied Saudi Arabia and Cameroon, and scored the lone goals required to eke past USA in the quarter and Korea in the semis, as Khan repelled relentless waves up the other end. Heartbreakingly yellow carded in the semi, he missed the final against Brazil, where his verve and drive was fatally missing.