Player of the year Pavel Nedved may hail from New Europe, but traditional powers such as Italy and Spain are still home to most of the sport’s elite

Old world order: player of the year Pavel Nedved may hail from New Europe, but traditional powers such as Italy and Spain are still home to most of the sport’s elite

AFTER THE 2002 EUROPEAN SEASON, many soccer observers gleefully created a new hierarchy that rewarded skill and continuity and frowned upon the defensive play that is considered to be strangling the game’s beauty. Italy’s Serie A was dragged under by boring tactics and high salaries. The English Premier League was the new home for a mix of skillful cosmopolitanism and old-fashioned, Brit grit. And Spain’s La Liga was the new dominant force, proof that athleticism, adventurousness, pace, and fitness were the paths to success. So what happened the next year? The first all-Italian Champions League final–with a third Serie A team in that event’s semifinals.

This year, Italy climbed back to the top, going toe-to-toe with Spain and England and very often winning. Germany was the big loser, with Bundesliga teams struggling against their richer rivals.

As a result, our 2002-03 team is dominated by players from the Spanish, English, and Italian leagues–including some stars from nations that aren’t typically among the world’s elite. Among those are our Player of the Year, Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved, and American goaltender Brad Friedel.

Here is our 2002-03 World All-Star Team.

Player of the Year PAVEL NEDVED

Juventus and the Czech Republic

The Czech star is among the most creative and versatile players in the world. After a 25 million [pounds sterling] move from Lazio, Nedved had another outstanding season. When Alessandro Del Piero went down with an injury, the Czech moved into the attack and stepped up his goal scoring without sacrificing his ability to create chances for his teammates.

The loss of Nedved for the Champions League final (due to yellow-card accumulation) was a serious blow. to Juve and may have cost the Serie A champs the title. At the least, it cost fans the chance to see the most elegant playmaker in Italy–and the best player not in the 2002 World Cup–on a grand scale. Nedved should make an appearance at Euro 2004, however: He also excelled for the Czech national team, one of the most underrated in the world, in its bid to qualify for that tournament.

World All-Stars

Goaltender

First Team

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Juventus and Italy

The world’s most expensive goaltender–Juventus spent 32 million [pounds sterling] to acquire him from Lazio–is also the world’s best Juve marched to the Serie A title thanks to the Buffon-led defense, which had a league-best goals-against record (28 goals allowed in 34 games). He also helped Juve to the Champions League final, saving a second-half penalty kick in the second leg of the semifinal against heavily favored Real Madrid.

Second Team

BRAD FRIEDEL

Blackburn and the United States

Friedel’s World Cup form carried over. to the EPL His shot-blocking, reaction saves, and long frame made him a game-changer. Blackburn and Friedel cooled a bit in midseason, but the team earned a UEFA Cup spot and the goalie was named to the EPL All-Star Team, becoming the first American to earn that honor.

Defenders

First Team

THOMAS LINKE

Bayern Munich and Germany

The hard man of the Bayern Munich back line, Linke led a defense that allowed only 25 goals in 34 Bundesliga games en route to a championship. Linke, now retired from international soccer, was an uncompromising figure in the center of the Bayern defense, overpowering most opposing attackers.

ALESSANDRO NESTA

Milan and Italy

Nesta moved from Lazio, for whom he served as captain, to Milan last summer in a 20-million [pounds sterling] deal. In the season’s early months, his positioning was shaky, but once he solidified a central partnership Paolo Maldini, Milan’s fortunes ballooned. Calm and skilled, Nesta is both a graceful passer and a tough tackler, and is arguably the world’s best defender.

ROBERTO CARLOS

Real Madrid and Brazil

In the past two years, Roberto Carlos has been rejuvenated. After his hardware-sweeping season last year–he earned winner’s medals in the Champions League, World Cup, and La Liga–2002-03 may have seemed like a slight disappointment for the Brazilian, but his play was exemplary. He supported the attack, maintained his world-class pace, and continued to improve his defensive game.

LILIAN THURAM

Juventus and France

The versatile Thuram moved to the right side of Juventus’ defense–where he also plays for France. His willingness and ability to adjust helped lift the stingiest defense in Italy. The move also allowed the elegant Thuram to form an effective partnership on the right with Maurico Camoranesi, a pleasant addition to Juve’s bag of tricks.

Second Team

ROBERTO AYALA

Valencia and Argentina

Valencia didn’t match their 2001-02 La Liga championship performance, but it wasn’t because of their defense. Ayala’s leadership and sturdy play helped the team earn the best defensive record in Spain and lifted it to a top-five finish.

CRISTIAN CHIVU

Ajax and Romania

The defender was a standout on a team of young stars, leading Ajax to the Champions League quarterfinals. Only 23, Chivu is one of the most sought-after players in Europe.

PAOLO MALDINI

Milan and Italy

Maldini moved from left back to the center and his positioning, leadership, and acumen helped Milan to a third-place Serie A finish and a pair of Cups: The European, his fourth, and the Italian.

WILLY SAGNOL

Bayern Munich and France

The Bayern right back was one of a number of reasons why his club dominated German soccer. A former midfielder, Sagnol’s skill and composure make him reminiscent of fellow France and Bayern full back Bixente Lizarazu.

Midfielders

First Team

PAVEL NEDVED

Juventus and Czech Republic

See “Player of the Year.”

RUI COSTA

Milan and Portugal

The lithe Milan playmaker is one of the most dynamic passers in the world. The veteran bounced back from nagging injuries to lift Milan to the Italian Cup, and had rive assists in Champions League play en route to leading his team to Europe’s most prestigious title.

ZINEDINE ZIDANE

Real Madrid and France

Zidane excelled for Real in both the competitive La Liga title race and the Champions League. Zidane’s creativity made him the star of a team of stars for Real, the engine that makes the entire team run. His inventiveness and vision helped France bounce back from its 2002 World Cup disappointment and roll through Euro 2004 qualifying.

Second Team

PAUL SCHOLES

Manchester United and England

The sprite red head was a galvanizing figure in the season’s closing months, moving into a spot in the hole and contributing a stream of goals (a career-high 20), well-timed runs, and inventive passes. His turn-around sparked United’s march to the EPL title and the Champions League quarterfinals.

RAFAEL VAN DER VAART

Ajax Amsterdam and Holland

This budding superstar missed early portions of the season with a pair of injuries, but his return–and 18 goals–sparked the Dutch to within a whisker of the domestic title and, were it not for a last-minute goal, a spot in the Champions League semifinals.

MICHAEL BALLACK

Bayern Munich and Germany

After battling injuries during the early part of the season, the 2001-02 SOCCER DIGEST Player of the Year led Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title, clinching the crown with a month to spare. Ballack also scored twice and set up a third in Bayern’s 3-1 German Cup final win.

Forwards

First Team

RAUL

Real Madrid and Spain

Ronaldo had a couple of high-profile games and finished with more goals, but once again Raul–the most complete forward of his generation–got the job done all season long. He also came through in some big games, setting the tone for Real’s two-leg quarterfinals domination of Manchester United with a pair of goals in the first match. In La Liga, he scored 16 goals and created many more with his passes and runs off the ball, lifting Real to a league championship.

RUUD VAN NISTELROOY

Manchester United and Holland

With his team against the wall, van Nistelrooy put it on his back, spearheading a remarkable run in the final months of the season to lead Manchester United to the EPL crown. A clinical finisher, van Nistelrooy often creates goals out of nothing–counting a Champions League-best 12 goals among his incredible season tally (44 in all competitions).

CHRISTIAN VIERI

Inter Milan and Italy

The towering Italian scored a league-leading 24 goals for Inter in Serie A play, lifting the club to second place and a spot in the Champions League semifinals. Inter finished second in the league and were tied for the most goals (64).

Second Team

THIERRY HENRY

Arsenal and France

The Arsenal offense runs through Henry–who frequently tracks back or floats on the wing–and he created more goals than almost any striker in the world: He had 23 unofficial assists to go with 24 goals in the EPL. The nifty Frenchman also tallied seven goals in Champions League play and helped his team to the FA Cup crown.

ROY MAKAAY

Deportivo la Coruna and Holland

The most prolific goalscorer in Spain, Makaay tallied 28 of Deportivo’s 63 goals and added another nine in Champions League play to finish with 37 in all competitions. Makaay kept Deportivo in the title hunt until the final weeks of the season, leading the team to a third-place finish.

ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

Juventus and Italy

This season fans were treated to a mature Del Piero, highlighted by his return from a mid-season injury. His return–along with his 16 Serie A goals–were the final push Juventus needed to claim the Serie A crown and advance to the Champions League final after a stunning domination of Real Madrid in the two-leg semifinal.

2002-2003 SOCCER DIGEST WORLD ALL-STARS

First Team

Pos. Name Club County

G Gianluigi Buffon Juventus Italy

D Thomas Linke Bayern Munich Germany

D Alessandro Nesta Milan Italy

D Roberto Carlos Real Madrid Spain

D Lilian Thuram Juventus France

M Pavel Nedved Juventus Czech Republic

M Rui Costa Milan Portugal

M Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid France

F Raul Real Madrid Spain

F Ruud van Nistelrooy Manchester United Holland

F Christian Vieri Inter Milan Italy

Second Team

Pos. Name Club County

G Brad Friedel Blackburn Rovers United States

D Roberto Ayala Valencia Argentina

D Cristian Chivu Ajax Amsterdam Romania

D Paolo Maldini Milan Italy

D Willy Sagnol Bayern Munich France

M Michael Ballack Bayern Munich Germany

M Paul Scholes Manchester United England

M Rafael van der Vaart Ajax Amsterdam Holland

F Alessandro Del Piero Juventus Italy

F Thierry Henry Arsenal France

F Roy Makaay Deportivo la Coruna Holland

Young Player of the Year: Robinho, Santos and Brazil

Comeback Player of the Year: Fernando Redondo, Milan

SOCCER DIGEST’S World Players of the Year

Year Player Club County

1996-97 Ronaldo Barcelona Brazil

1997-98 Dennis Bergkamp Arsenal Holland

1998-99 Rivaldo Barcelona Brazil

1999-2000 Zinedine Zidane Juventus France

2000-01 Zinedine Zidane Juventus France

2001-02 Michael Ballack Bayer Leverkusen Germany

2002-03 Pavel Nedved Juventus Czech Republic

SOCCER DIGEST’S World Young Players of the Year

Year Player Club County

1997-98 Michael Owen Liverpool England

1998-99 Christian Abbiati Milan Italy

1999-2000 Patrick Vieira Arsenal France

2000-01 Javier Saviola River Plate Argentina

2001-02 Tomas Rosicky Borussia Dortmund Czech Republic

2002-03 Robinho Santos Brazil

SOCCER DIGEST’S World Comeback Players of the Year

Year Player Club County

1997-98 Edgar Davids Juventus Holland

1998-99 David Beckham Manchester United England

1999-2000 Laurent Blanc Inter Milan Italy

2000-01 Romario Vasco da Gama Brazil

2001-02 Stefan Reuter Borussia Dortmund Germany

2002-03 Fernando Redondo Milan Argentina

COPYRIGHT 2003 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group