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. The other five players nominated in the central defender category will be profiled on 14 December.
Alessandro Nesta (S.S. Lazio and Italy)
The first Lazio player to lift a European trophy - when the club won the 1999 UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup - Nesta has had a mixed 2001. In May, Lazio finished in a creditable third place in Serie A but had to watch as rivals AS Roma won the title. Surprisingly they were knocked out at the first group stage of this season's UEFA Champions League but the blame cannot be pointed at Nesta. He is an imposing central defender, who as club captain has inspired the team to challenge again for the 2001/02 domestic title. Nesta has enjoyed better fortune with Italy, helping them to a place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. In the seven qualifying games he played, the Azzuri keep five clean sheets.
Patrik Andersson (FC Barcelona and Sweden)
Voted Swedish footballer of the year in November, Andersson has had an incredible year. In May, he scored the goal that gave FC Bayern München the 1. Bundesliga title in the dying seconds of their last league match at Hamburger SV. He then seemed to be heading for despair when he missed a penalty in the 2000/01 Champions League final penalty shoot-out, only for Bayern to triumph anyway. A move to Barcelona followed in the summer and Andersson has proved an instant hit with the Catalan club. Andersson was on target in the Champions League against Fenerbahçe SK as Barcelona easily qualified for the second group stage. A top-class stopper, he was a key figure as Sweden qualified for next summer's World Cup.
Robert Ayala (Valencia CF and Argentina)
This Argentinian defender has had a tremendous 2001 for club and country - a fact recognised when he collected UEFA's award for best defender of the 2000/01 season. For Valencia, Ayala was part of the team that narrowly lost their second Champions League final in a row in May. Although the club finished fifth in the Primera División last season, they had by far the best defensive record. With Ayala's help, Valencia conceded only 34 goals in 38 league matches. The club's league form has not been so great in 2001/02 but Ayala has been an inspiration in the team's UEFA Cup run. He was also a mainstay of the Argentina team that qualified easily for the World Cup in Korea/Japan.
Sami Hyypiä (Liverpool FC and Finland)
It has been an astonishing 12 months for the giant Finn. Hyypiä was a rock as Liverpool won a cup treble in 2000/01. After the English League Cup triumph in February, Hyypiä was captain when the club won the UEFA Cup and FA Cup in May. This season continued as the last one ended. He was part of the team that won the FA Charity Shield and then beat Bayern in the UEFA Super Cup in August and then helped Liverpool qualify for the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League. A born leader, Hyypiä has been instrumental in Liverpool's surge to the top of the English FA Premiership at the end of 2001.
Sammy Kuffour (FC Bayern München and Ghana)
On the shortlist for African footballer of the year to be decided in spring 2002, Kuffour has had the kind of year most players only dream about. After being part of the Bayern team that won the 1. Bundesliga and Champions League in 2000/01, the Ghanaian international would have perhaps expected things to calm down in the following campaign. However he has again been in terrific form for Bayern in their defence of their European title and even managed to score the only goal in the European/South American Cup win over Club Atlético Boca Juniors at the end of November.
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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