Even without a FIFA World Cup or European Championship final round, 2001 provided a feast of football, with FC Bayern München regaining their European Champion Club’s Cup title, Liverpool FC rejoining Europe’s elite and 15 European teams qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Naturally, there were many fine individual displays too, and 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 31 December.
Oliver Kahn (FC Bayern München and Germany)
A safe pair of hands is central to the success of any side and the first name on the shortlist for uefa.com's goalkeeper of the year has to be Oliver Kahn, the last line of defence for both FC Bayern München and Germany. UEFA's goalkeeper of the year for the past three seasons, Kahn excelled again in 2001, leading Bayern to victory in the UEFA Champions League final where he foiled Valencia CF's Zlatko Zahovic, Amedeo Carboni and Mauricio Pellegrino in the decisive penalty shoot-out. An earlier save from Zahovic had forced the game into extra time so it was little surprise that Kahn also collected the man-of-the-match award in the San Siro stadium that night. His efforts later earned him both UEFA's award for best goalkeeper of 2000/01 and its Fair Play award for his gesture of commiseration at the end of the final to his distraught Valencia counterpart Santiago Cañizares. His consistent excellence is illustrated by Bayern's record in last season's tournament: they conceded only nine goals en route to capturing the European crown. The 32-year-old - whose formidable physique is matched by a steely self-assurance unlikely to be too dented by England's five goals in September's 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Munich- also picked up his fourth 1. Bundesliga medal this year.
Santiago Cañizares (Valencia CF and Spain)
As mentioned above, on the opposing side in last May's Champions League final was the Spanish international Cañizares. Like Kahn, Cañizares produced some spectacular stops that May evening - blocking a Mehmet Scholl penalty with his legs in the first half and then denying Patrik Andersson in the shoot-out. Saving penalties is a happy habit for the 31-year-old who repeated the trick in the third round of this season's UEFA Cup, helping Valencia overcome Celtic FC in a shoot-out. The blond streaks in his hair and wild glint in his eye suggest a maverick and there is no doubt Cañizares is a player who thrives under pressure; he famously denied Denmark on his international debut as a substitute for the sent-off Andoni Zubizarreta in a decisive World Cup qualifier in 1993. An important team man, he kept ten clean sheets in 17 matches in last season's Champions League and will compete with Iker Casillas for a starting place for Spain in Korea/Japan next summer.
Mickaël Landreau (FC Nantes Atlantique)
Mickäel Landreau is one of the goalkeeping union's bright young things. This product of the Nantes youth team made his first-team debut against SC Bastia aged just 17 - marking the occasion with a penalty save - and by the time of his 22nd birthday last May had captained the club to their first league title in six years. A first international cap followed against Australia in the FIFA Confederations Cup. Although Nantes have struggled in Le Championnat this term, Landreau's presence between the posts has been integral to their progress in the Champions League. Displaying the admirable maturity that earned him the Nantes armband when barely out of his teens (as well as the captaincy of the French Under-21 side), Landreau was beaten just three times in six first group stage games as the 'Canaris' topped Group D.
Petr Cech (AC Sparta Praha)
Landreau assumes near-veteran status next to AC Sparta Praha's 19-year-old keeper, Petr Cech. This towering teenager earned rave reviews for his displays in the summer's FIFA Under-20 World Championship in Argentina, not conceding a single goal in the group stage as the Czech Republic reached the last eight. His star has continued to rise - and at a dizzying pace. Since displacing Sparta No1 Michal Špit, Cech has received the call to join the Czech senior squad and spent the autumn keeping out some of Europe's best strikers in the Champions League. Some outstanding saves in Sparta's final European tie before the winter break - a 1-0 win at FC Porto - not only maintained the Czech champions' unbeaten away record in the competition but also secured his fifth clean sheet in eight matches.
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid CF and Spain)
Cech is treading a similar path to Real Madrid CF keeper Casillas, who enjoyed his own meteoric rise to prominence in the 1999/2000 campaign- which he began as third choice yet finished as a member of Madrid's Champions League-winning side. Now 20, Casillas shows no sign of slowing down and, after collecting his first Primera División winner's medal last May, was voted the best young player in Europe by Bravo magazine. A mistake in the Champions League semi-final defeat by Bayern - when he was beaten by a long-range Giovane Elber effort - underlined that he is still learning his trade, yet the errors are outweighed by the excellence. Some fine saves in Prague last month helped Madrid defeat AC Sparta Praha and take pole position in Group C ahead of the winter break. He also kept three clean sheets in five appearances as Spain qualified for the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals - a tournament that should provide his first taste of the international spotlight after warming the bench at EURO 2000™.