- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

Washington Times soccer writer John Haydon selects the best players, by position, at the World Cup:

FORWARDS

Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine. A cool, deadly striker who rarely misses when given a chance. The only player from the former Soviet republics to succeed in Italy: Shevchenko plays for AC Milan and ranks as the second-leading goal scorer in club history.

Theirry Henry, France. The best finisher in the world. An exquisite player with a delicate touch and brilliant dribbling skills. Henry, who has scored 31 goals for France in 76 games, is an artist on the ball. He scored 27 goals in the Premier League with Arsenal this season.

MIDFIELDERS

Ronaldinho, Brazil. The two-time world player of the year possesses blistering speed and a magical touch. If anyone can inherit Pele’s crown, he’s the one. Likely to be closely marked at the World Cup, but watch him sail by defenders.

Stephen Gerrard, England. A creative attacking midfielder who can shoot from a distance. Gerrard plays with emotion and has the ability to control a game. After leading Liverpool to win the F.A. Cup in dramatic fashion, he is probably the most in-form player for England at the moment.

Michael Ballack, Germany. The intelligent and elegant attacking midfielder is the backbone of the German team. On home soil, Ballack will be determined to put on a good enough show to erase the memories of the World Cup in 2002, when he missed the final against Brazil because of a suspension.

Kaka, Brazil. Clever, creative player with superb passing skills. Kaka overcame a serious back injury to play soccer and is widely considered one of the most exciting midfielders in the world. He has the ability to unleash the perfect ball in order to create a dangerous counterattack.

Juan Ramon Riquelme, Argentina. A talented playmaker with close ball skills. Capable of holding the ball and setting up attacking plays. When he’s at his best, he can drive the whole team.

DEFENDERS

Alessandro Nesta, Italy. Brazilian ace Pele was recently quoted as saying: “To be sure of winning, the Brazilian team only needs one player: Alessandro Nesta.” Enough said.

Carles Puyol, Spain. A strong and fearless versatile defender who is not afraid to go on the attack. Puyol exudes determination, and his leadership helped lead Barcelona to triumph in Europe this season.

John Terry, England. As solid as the “Bank of England.” A calming figure at the back, with pinpoint tackling. The Chelsea star also is deadly with his head-on set pieces.

GOALIE

Petr Cech, Czech Republic. One of the key reasons for Chelsea won two consecutive Premier League titles. It’s unusual to see such mature talent in a 24-year-old keeper.

BEST OF THE REST

Midfielders

Tim Cahill, Australia

Michael Essien, Ghana

Park Ji-Sung, South Korea

Frank Lampard, England

Lionel Messi, Argentina

Rafael Van der Vaart, Holland

Forward

Didier Droga, Ivory Coast

Ali Karimi, Iran

Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Holland

Lucas Podolski, Germany

Ronaldo, Brazil

Wayne Rooney, England

Carlos Tevez, Argentina

Luca Toni, Italy

Fernando Torres, Spain

Goalies

Kasey Keller, United States

Jens Lehmann, Germany

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