Ranked! The 10 best players of World Cup 2002

Ronaldo 2002
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5. Hong Myung-bo 

Currently the dapper manager of the South Korea side heading out to Brazil, Hong is widely rated as one of the best Asian footballers of all time – and it was his All Star Team-making performances at Korea’s home World Cup that really made his name – despite being his fourth visit to the tournament.

A classy sweeper with a Stevie G-esque ability to ping it long, he marshalled Korea’s three-man backline with composure as they went on a thrilling run to the semi-finals. His cool head was demonstrated as he slotted home the winning penalty when the Red Devils eliminated Spain on penalties.

4. Rivaldo

It’s hard to separate the three Rs – Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo – in terms of performance at World Cup 2002, so fluidly did they operate as an offensive unit. But while one is a shoo-in for our No.1 spot, Rivaldo probably had a slight edge over his midfield box-of-tricks colleague for our other top 10 entry.

He put in man-of-the-match performances in two games that really counted: against Belgium in the round of 16 and England in the quarter-finals. Tall, graceful, powerful, cunning and lethal in the shot, he was so often this Seleção side’s midfield heartbeat. Unbelievably, he only retired in 2015, having been on the books of Sao Paulo outfit Mogi Mirim, who he’d also played for 22 before on his way up.

3. Hasan Sas 

The Galatasaray legend – who hung up his boots in 2009 – led Turkey’s dizzying, unlikely charge to the semi-finals in Korea and Japan. A buccaneering winger with wicked speed and dribbling ability, he gave Turkey the lead against Brazil in their opening group fixture (they lost 2-1), terrorised Costa Rica and China (scoring after six minutes), and was the key man as they outfought Japan (1-0) in the round of 16 and Senegal in the quarters.

The semi-final against Brazil proved a step too far – but he dazzled again to become on of the most sought-after wingers in Europe. Alas, serious injury soon afterwards meant this was to be his zenith.

2. Oliver Kahn

The only net-minder in history to win the Golden Ball for being the best player in a World Cup, and deservedly so. Memorably de-trousered 5-1 in Munich by England during qualifying, the Germans went to Korea and Japan with their lowest expectations in decades, merely hoping to avoid further shame.

Instead, they made it all the way to the Yokohama final, largely thanks to Kahn’s near-impenetrable goalmouth. He conceded just thrice in the entire tournament, and one goal until the final: Robbie Keane grabbed that for Ireland in extra-time. In the group stage, Germany scored 11 (including eight past Saudi Arabia). Three clean sheets in the knockout stages allowed a workaday outfield to one-nil their way rather boringly past Paraguay, USA and South Korea. 

But with a cruelty reserved alone for goalkeepers, Khan’s World Cup will mainly be remembered for a blunder in the endgame. Struggling with an injured hand, he failed to hold a Rivaldo shot, and Ronaldo scored the rebound. The image of him standing desolate after the whistle, his fortress breached, lingers on. “There is no consolation,” he sighed afterwards, the definition of melancholy. “It was the only mistake I made in seven games, and it was brutally punished”. No Golden Ball could compensate for that.

1. Ronaldo

True, Ronaldo was a better player in 1998 than he was in 2002 – he was never quite the same physiological masterpiece after his horrible 2000 cruciate ligament injury, and his pace and sheer brute force were diminished in comparison to The Phenomenon who’d blasted Brazil to the final at France '98 (winning the Golden Ball as a result, only to have a mysterious fit and look like a passenger in the most important fixture). 

But 2002 represented redemption. If Ronny wasn’t quite as good as before he was still a cut above the rest, thumping an amazing eight goals to win the Golden Boot, and the tournament, in what was a much happier few weeks than his French delight-turned-nightmare.

He scored in every match apart from the quarter-final win over England, combining beautifully with Ronaldinho and Rivaldo throughout; bagged two in the final against Germany, and equalled Pele’s 12 World Cup goals. The biggest win, though, was the fact that he could “play football again, run again and score goals again”. Amen to that.