Rather than impose our own “expert” selections of the top players of the year, uefa.com is asking the real experts, the site’s users, to vote for their Team of 2001. From now until 26 December, we will present the nominations for each of eleven playing positions and also for the coach of the year, with voting taking place until 30 December. The uefa.com users Team of 2001 will be announced on 3 January 2002.
Cafú (AS Roma and Brazil)
The first of the five right-backs on uefa.com’s shortlist is the most senior, AS Roma’s 31-year-old Brazilian international Cafú. As such, he should require little introduction. A FIFA World Cup winner with Brazil in 1994, Cafú added a Serie A winners medal to his collection in May as an integral member of Fabio Capello’s title-winning side. A dynamic presence, his overlapping runs are an important feature of the Rome club’s attacking plan and, as captain of his country, his experience was doubtless important as Roma pushed to end their 17-year wait for the title. He opened his Champions League goals account this season with the only goal in the first-stage victory at FC Lokomotiv Moscow, a late effort that ensured Roma beat the Russian side to second place in Group A.
Willy Sagnol (FC Bayern München and France)
Willy Sagnol is another player with fond memories of last May, when he crowned a successful first season with FC Bayern München by helping the Bavarian side to victory in both the Champions League and 1. Bundesliga. Although substituted at half-time in the final, the Champions League victory will have been particularly sweet for this 24-year-old Frenchman, reared on tales of AS Saint-Étienne's exploits in Europe in the 1970s. More conservative than his colleague on the Bayern left, Bixente Lizarazu, Sagnol - who hopes eventually to move inside into central defence - secured the right-back berth at the Olympiastadion following his €6.3m move from AS Monaco FC. His next task is to hold down a starting place in the French national team.
Lilian Thuram (Juventus FC and France)
Standing in his way, of course, is Juventus FC's Lilian Thuram. France's regular right-back, Thuram left Parma AC after five years' tremendous service in the summer to join his international colleague David Trezeguet at the Delle Alpi stadium. Consistently excellent in the full-back berth, Thuram has had to adapt to a central defensive role with the Bianconeri, playing alongside Paolo Montero. Given his stated ambition to move inside for France, Thuram, who turns 30 on New Year's Day, may be glad for the change yet it is in his more accustomed position that he is likely to play for his country in next summer's World Cup.
Cosmin Contra (Milan AC and Romania)
Another player adapting to a move to one of Serie A's 'Seven Sisters' is Milan AC's Cosmin Contra. If Thuram's strengths are his defensive skills, then Contra's are as an attacking threat. The Romanian international was one of the stars of Deportivo Alavés's fairy-tale journey to the UEFA Cup final last season, where they lost a thrilling match 5-4 to Liverpool FC. More a winger than defender, his surges down the right flank, dribbling and crosses were a notable feature of the Alavés success story. Contra, whose quiet nature off the field belies a strong personality on it, left the Basque country for Milan in the summer, where he must adjust to a reduced licence to roam. Twenty-six this month, he has finally established himself as a key player in the Romania team after several years in the shadow of Dan Petrescu but, with his international colleagues, will miss out on the World Cup. His fulminating 20-metre strike brought Romania back into contention in their qualifying play-off second leg against Slovenia but was not enough to prevent a 2-1 aggregate loss.
Manuel Pablo García (Deportivo La Coruña and Spain)
The last of our five right-backs, Manuel Pablo García, would be an automatic selection for Spain's squad for the World Cup, were it not for a double leg fracture that leaves him facing a fight for fitness - and blackened what had until then been a memorable 2001. Manuel Pablo was fast earning a reputation as one of Europe's finest full-backs (attracting interest from Real Madrid CF in the process) when he suffered a double leg fracture during the Galician derby with RC Celta de Vigo in September. The 25-year-old enjoyed an excellent campaign last season, playing in 37 league games and all of Deportivo's 14 Champions League ties, and had continued his impressive form this season - notably when he shackled Manchester United FC's Ryan Giggs in Deportivo's 2-1 home defeat of the English champions in September. After making his international debut in August last year, this powerful, mobile defender - adept at getting to by-line to fire over crosses - became a favourite of coach José Antonio Camacho, playing in seven of Spain's 2002 World Cup qualifying matches.
Many thanks for participating in the voting to find the uefa.com users' team of 2001. Voting has now closed, with the complete results to be announced on 3 January 2002.
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