None of the players in this photo are in the team.
This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of the 2002 World Cup, a tournament held between Japan and South Korea, making it the first tournament to take place in Asia. It’s been widely cited as one of the most mediocre tournaments in living memory, exemplified by a Germany side in transition managing to reach the final, where they were roundly beaten by pre-tournament favourites Brazil. England had a team that were widely referred to as a ‘golden generation’ that reached the quarterfinals where they were dispatched by the eventual winners. Same old.
It did however, feature several upsets in the earlier stages, most notably South Korea’s controversial victory over Italy in the last 16, leading to Serie A side Perugia cancelling goalscorer Ahn Jung-Hwan’s contract the day after the match (club president Luciano Gaucci told Italian TV that Jung-Hwan had ‘ruined Italian football’) and a retrospective video on the topic entitled ‘Disgrace of a Sport’ with a lot of racist comments underneath it (the video is the first hit that comes up when you search ‘2002 World Cup’ on YouTube, which is how I do most of my research).
It also happens to be the first World Cup that I, as a 22 year old human, can distinctly remember happening and following of my own accord. At the time it was absolutely the best thing to have ever happened. The mathematically minded among you may have noticed that it’s also the 25th anniversary of the 1992 European Championship, a tournament that was won by Denmark and has been written about quite a lot and recently been marked by a commemorative kit from Hummel. Those with an even greater statistical brain may even point out that it’s the 35th anniversary of the 1982 world cup (in Spain, won by Italy), the 45th anniversary of the 1972 Euros, and maybe even more going further back. Unfortunately, all of those tournaments happened before I was born, so didn’t actually happen.
We’re sure you’re absolutely clamouring for the inevitable deluge of thinkpieces and features on this momentous tournament, so we thought we’d get in there early doors with a top tournament XI of players you haven’t thought about in a while. You’ve most likely heard of most of, if not all, of these players (it was only 15 years ago), but hopefully a few will make you go ‘oh, yeah, I remember him’. If not, you’ve given us a page view now so who’s the real winner here?
The rules- We can only pick one player per country, and they had to play in at least one game at the tournament.
Well yeah, I know you know who Reçber is, but you haven’t thought about him in a while have you? He got into the FIFA team of the tournament and played a huge part in Turkey reaching the semi-final (where they only conceded 1 to a shit-hot Brazil team) after a series of 1-0 wins. He also wore eye black which didn’t really catch on for some reason. After the tournament he moved from Fenerbahçe to Barcelona where he made 4 competitive and was loaned back to his old club, but there was a period of about three weeks when he looked like the best keeper in the world.
We all dream of a team of Gary Breens. If you’ve supported an English team outside the Premier League in the last 15 years you almost definitely know who Gary Breen is, but I wanted to put him in because he was great and Irish fans still sing ‘and number one is Gary Breen’. Breen pottered around the top two divisions in England for two decades, establishing himself best at Peterborough, Coventry and Sunderland I also like that he scored 13 goals in 552 club appearances in but 7 in only 63 for Ireland including one against Saudi Arabia in the group stages here. His performances in Japan and Korea almost earned him a move to Inter Milan, but the deal fell through and he ended up at West Ham instead. Lol.
Taribo West! The one with the green hair! To be honest Nigeria were a lot better in 1998 but I’m not doing a 19th anniversary piece am I? He’s probably the only player to appear for both Milan teams and for Plymouth Argyle. After the tournament his coach called West a ‘bad influence’ who had ‘flouted his instructions’, leading to Nigeria’s group stage exit, but remember his green hair!
Abel Xavier! The one with the bleached hair! Again, we all know who he is and probably don’t need too much reminding (anonymous defenders aren’t as interesting as forgotten strikers to be honest, so this end of the team was a bit trickier to pick). He was playing for Liverpool at the time of the tournament but only appeared once as a substitute in Portugal’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of South Korea, which also marked his last appearance in international football (he only got 20 caps, which seems odd to me). So Xavier sneaks in on a technicality, but he did bleach his hair AND his beard.
Yeah, you know who Marc Wilmots is. Current manager of Ivory Coast and, until recently, in charge of the Belgian national team, he also won 70 caps as a player and, with 5 goals across four world cups (although he only played in three), surprisingly remains Belgium’s all time top scorer at the tournament. He also scored this goal against Japan in the group stages.
Inamoto was the second biggest star in a Japan team that managed to reach the round of 16, working alongside the so-called Japanese Beckham, Hidetoshi Nakata (remember when everyone had an ‘X Beckham’? Millwall had Darren Ward, the so-called Peckham Beckham, a 6ft 3in centre back with a blond mullet). Released by Arsenal shortly before the tournament, the bleached blonde centre midfielder scored twice and had a late winner against Belgium controversially ruled out as Inamoto played himself into a move to Fulham. He played for them, West Brom and Cardiff before moving out to the continent. He’s still playing for Consadole Sapporo in the J-League at the age of 37, which is nice.
I love a failed Premier League signing. The Slovenian winger was playing for Red Star Belgrade at the time of the tournament and was the only bright spot for his country as they lost all 3 games (against Paraguay, Spain and South Africa). His one goal was apparently enough to earn a move to Glen Hoddle’s Spurs, where he was given numerous chances to shine but never really impressed, and is probably best remembered for missing an open goal from six yards out against Fulham. He was moved on to Lille after two seasons, where he promptly refound his form as a first team player and eventually scored against Man United in the Champions League group stages. Slovenia’s 2002 campaign was also significant (for people like me anyway) as it was the first time they wore a kit with their now-standard mountain outline on it. The more you know.
Unless you’re an expert in South Korean domestic football, this one is a very tournament specific one. A box to box centre mid, Sang-Chul’s performances for the host nation as they controversially reached the semi-finals, edging out Spain and Italy in the process, earned him a place in the official team of the tournament alongside the likes of Rivaldo, Oliver Kahn and Sol Campbell. He was already in his 30’s by 2002 though, so opposed to the likes of Park Ji-sung, Cha Du-ri and Lee Young-pyo, his performances didn’t earn him a move to Europe. Nevertheless, his position at the heart of one of the most surprising and contested stories in world cup history earn him a place in this team (plus you haven’t thought about him since 2002, have you?).
Before there was Samuel Eto’o, there was Patrick M’Boma. The former all-time top goalscorer for Cameroon, M’Boma was winding down his career by 2002 (evidenced by a loan spell at Sunderland the same year), but still managed a goal against Ireland in the group stages. M’Boma had spent a season in at Gamba Osaka earlier in his career, where he finished top scorer in the J-League, but his familiarity with the environment couldn’t get his country past the group stages. Cameroon’s 2002 campaign is probably best remembered because they were gonna wear a fucking sick sleeveless kit (because everyone knows the part of the body that suffers the most in 30 degrees summer heat is the top half of the arm) but FIFA stepped in and made them add a black sleeve so they could put their logo on it. Mugs.
Christophe Dugarry is now best known in France for talking absolute bollocks for a variety of media outlets. He recently said Francesco Totti ‘is not a legend’, and just this week was the victim of an online hoax about him dying, which seems like a weird choice to me. It might be because of my age but I literally had no recollection of Dugarry playing for France, but he won 55 caps for France as a striker between 1994 and 2002. He was not among the most talented French strikers in or outside of the squad, but benefited from a long-stretching professional and personal relationship with one Zinedine Zidane. He played in all three of France’s games in 2002 (although never for a full 90 minutes) as the cup holders were eliminated at the first hurdle, and promptly retired from international football immediately. He then spent a year and a half at Birmingham City where he is remembered in one way or another.
Batistuta is easily the most recognisable name on this team, but still for some reason hasn’t had the longevity of other big-name strikers from the period. Before becoming Big Narstie ad-lib, Batistuta was a strong, clinical finisher at club level in Italy and was expected to lead the line as Argentina entered the tournament as second favourites and with their strongest side in the post-Maradona period. He had impressed in 1994, scoring a hat trick in the group stages before losing to Romania in the last 16 and had scored another hat-trick against Jamaica in 1998 as Argentina reached the quarter finals. A win against Nigeria, a draw with Sweden and a gorgeous David Beckham penalty later (I got carpet burn on my knees when England won) and Batigol’s international career was over. I’m not saying he was shit or anything, but had Argentina got a bit further in the tournament then Batistuta’s name might be remembered as more than a stopgap before the arrival of Messi and co or as a niche reference on a grime track.
So there’s our top XI of players you probably haven’t thought about in a while who appeared in the 2002 World Cup. Let me know if there’s anyone I’ve forgotten (although that was sort of the point of this article in the first place). Happy anniversary!
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