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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Teams not individuals the stars
Luis Figo slumps on the pitch as Portugal are knocked out
Figo is left glum after Portugal are beaten by the USA

Who has been your player of the World Cup so far?

Rivaldo? A couple of nice goals, a few dives. Michael Ballack? About the same.

It's not an easy question, mainly because so few individuals have shone at this tournament.

Zinedine Zidane walks off dejected after France go out
Zidane trudges off as France crash out
Whereas France 98 was all about Zidane and Ronaldo, and USA 94 Baggio and Romario, 2002 has seen the team ethic triumph over talisman.

The advertising campaigns of Nike and adidas were based on the solo stars.

Nike had Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos and Thierry Henry; adidas, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Alessandro del Piero.

What did they produce? The first three: nothing, one good free-kick and a sending-off, in that order.

The adidas heroes? Nothing, some quiet displays and a single goal which led nowhere.

The true stars of the past month have been South Korea, the USA and, hard though it might be to bear, Germany.

While each side has players who are better known than others - Ahn Jung-Hwan, Landon Donovan and Miroslav Klose - this is because they were the men who got on the scoresheet, rather than because they were the solo stars.

The lesson to take from the unexpected success of these sides is not so much that the footballing map has been redrawn, but that 11 well-organised players working together will always be hard to beat.

Says Ballack: "Our attitude is that we are a team, not 11 individuals. The team has to be greater than the sum of its parts, otherwise there is no chance of success.

"Maybe we don't have superstars, but we have good players and a solid system."

Alessandro del Piero is substituted against South Korea
Del Piero is subbed against South Korea
Guus Hiddink has worked with a disparate group of talented players before - with Holland at Euro 96.

On a player-by-player basis, that Dutch side of Kluivert, Davids, Bergkamp and Overmars was far superior to this World Cup's Korean team.

But in terms of success, Hiddink's current crop come out on top by a mile.

That Dutch side was rent asunder by egotism and allegations of racism, the stars refusing to subsume their own needs to those of the team.

South Korea, in total contrast, have gone into every game utterly united, ready to give their all until the final whistle.

So why have the big names failed to produce?

In one or two cases, injury drew their sting. Zidane came back into the French team too late and too below-par to save them from a first-round exit; Beckham was never more than two-thirds match fit.

More often it was a case of the maestros being denied the time and space they needed to work their magic.

Figo barely had time to settle on the ball in Portugal's opening game against the US before John O'Brien and DaMarcus Beasley were closer to him than the number on his shirt.

Del Piero escaped Mexico's defence to take Italy through to the second round, but then Hong Myung-Bo and Kim Tae-Young barely gave him a sniff as Italy crashed out to Korea.

A combination of smart tactics and high levels of fitness mean that nations without prima donnas can now match their glamorous rivals as never before.

Flashes of inspiration

The exception to the rule? Maybe, just maybe, Brazil.

While Felipe Scolari has, like Mario Zagalo eight years ago, brought traditional European virtues of organisation to his side, they have still relied on flashes of inspiration to see them through.

England were beaten by Ronaldinho's run and Rivaldo's first-time shot; the latter put paid to Belgium.

Edmilson scored the best goal a centre-back has ever produced against Costa Rica and Ronaldo shook off the cobwebs to squeeze the remaining life from three opponents.

But this is not the Brazil of old, the 1982 vintage of Zico, Socrates and Falcao or the 1970 classic of Pele, Rivelino and Jairzinho.

Scolari was happy to sacrifice Juninho's flair for Kleberson's running to win the quarter-final against England.

Success, if it comes, will be due as much to an unfamiliar work ethic as it is golden glimpses of genius.

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