Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gianluigi Buffon and the two Japanese
On June 30 the final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea marked its 20th anniversary. Since then the world has seen four other World Cups, and the stars of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have lit up. You could say that, by soccer standards, an eternity has passed.
The more curious that there are still a few players from the 2002 FIFA World Cup who are still in the big leagues, continuing their professional careers. Let’s track them all down.
Joaquin – Spain
Joaquin was 20 years old at the start of the 2002 World Cup and was considered one of the main rising stars of world soccer. The Spaniard took part in two matches of that tournament, against South Africa and South Korea. In the first match he scored a pass, but in the game against the hosts failed to implement the penalty shootout, which eventually led to the departure of the Spaniards.
Joaquin now, as 20 years ago, defends the colors of Betis, but during this huge interval has also managed to play for Valencia, Malaga and Fiorentina. The Spaniard did not become a global star, but a legend of Betis and the Spanish soccer.
Nigeria brought to the 2002 FIFA World Cup a rather curious squad, which featured veterans like Okocha and Adepoju as well as young talents like Ejide, Enyeama, Agahova and Ogbeche. The latter was only 17 at the start of the World Cup. That did not stop the Nigerian coach from entrusting Ogbeche a place in the starting lineup for the first two games against Argentina and Sweden. However, it was not a success. The Nigerians lost both matches and early lost their chances of qualifying for the playoffs. Ogbeche did not produce any interesting results.
At the start of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Ogbeche belonged to PSG and was a “prodigy”. However, the forward failed to live up to at least a tenth of the expectations. His career quickly stalled, and by the end of the 2000s Ogbeche was forced to look for a haven at second-tier clubs from not the strongest leagues such as Greece and the UAE. However, the restless Nigerian does not want to hang up his boots. He spent the last four seasons in the Indian league, where he managed to score more than fifty goals.
Junishi Inamoto – Japan
That’s right, he’s the white-haired Japanese who scored the only goal of the 2002 World Cup in the match Japan – Russia. The midfielder showed himself brightly at that World Cup and caught the attention of English Fulham, where he spent the next two seasons. Then Inamoto, who was 22 by the start of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, changed European clubs (he was seen at West Bromwich, Cardiff, Galatasaray, Eintracht and Rennes), and in 2010 he returned to his homeland, where he still plays. True, now at the age of 42, Inamoto has gone down to a very low level – his current club Nankatsu is listed in the 5th strongest division of the country.
Shinji Ono – Japan
Another representative of that Japanese team. Ono is nine days younger than Inamoto, but unlike his midfield mate is still holding his own at the highest level. Ono’s club, Consadole Sapporo, plays in Japan’s top division.
In Europe the midfielder is known for his performances for Dutch Feyenoord, with which in the same year in 2002 managed to win the UEFA Cup.
Carlos Kameni – Cameroon
This Cameroonian goalkeeper made his mark on the international scene back in 2000, when he won the gold medal with his country’s national team at the Sydney Olympics. Two years later Kameni went to his first World Cup, but he never appeared on the pitch.
His club career was rather bright – for a long and successful career in Spain, where he won the national Cup with Espanyol and reached the UEFA Cup final, and was part of a strong Malaga side that made it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in early ’10.
Now 38 years old, Kameni could very well still play in Europe, but he preferred to move to a quieter environment – tearing up the Djibouti championship with Alex Song in the club Arta Solar.
Roque Santa Cruz – Paraguay
The former Bayern and Manchester City player is still playing soccer and doing so successfully. The last 5 years the forward spent at home with Olympia and scored more than 60 goals in national league matches. Already in the current year Santa Cruz moved to another Paraguayan giants Libertad, for which he also distinguished himself with a goal.
At the time of the start of the 2002 World Cup Santa Cruz was 20 years old, but he already had enough experience in big soccer – for Bayern and the national team Paraguayan had time to debut back in 1999. Santa Cruz’s career with the national team was rich – he played in three World Cups and four America’s Cups. He left the national team in 2016 at the age of 34.
Gianluigi Buffon – Italy
The oldest on the current list. Buffon turned 44 in January, but he still plays at a decent level – returning in the summer of 2021 to his native Parma, with whom he battles in Serie B. And 20 years ago he traveled to the World Cup as a player for Juventus, which he joined in the 2001 offseason. The Japan-Korea World Cup was Gigi’s second, but the first in which he was a mainstay. He was included in Scuadra Azzurra’s application for the ’98 World Cup but did not play a single match there.
Buffon stayed with Italy until 2018 and would probably have played at the World Cup in Russia, but the Italians incomprehensibly failed in the qualifying games, losing to Sweden. It’s a shame, Buffon could have been part of 6 World Cups, a bar no one has yet conquered.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden
And last on our list, of course, is the great Zlatan. At the 2002 World Cup, which Ibrahimovic faced at the age of 20, the legendary Swede made his debut at major tournaments. In general, Ibrahimovic`s appearance at the tournament was episodic – he appeared in two matches from the bench (against Argentina and Senegal) and was not noted for productive actions. Zlatan still had some way to go to become a world soccer star, and he began to show his magic later when he scored a fantastic goal against Italy at Euro 2004.
Now Ibra is still in form and does not seem to have any plans to finish his career. He will spend at least one season at AC Milan, and then maybe one more. Ibrahimovic could have participated in the 2022 World Cup – he returned to the national team recently for that, but the Swedes lost to the Poles and they will not be in Qatar. As with Buffon – a bit of a pity, it would have been a beautiful story with Ibrahimovic participating in two World Cups 20 years apart. Of the entire list of veterans playing so far at the 2002 Mundial, only he had a real chance to loop his career in this way.