Top 10: Players of Korea/Japan 2002
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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.