Who's the world's best?

AS usual, after the World Cup finals - but, embarrassingly, in some cases just before the final itself - we were regaled with Best 11 choices. From the throng of journalists and, before that, from official sources. Which distinguished themselves by managing to leave out England's centre-back Rio Ferdinand, whose general elegance - even if in the opening England game he may have made his familiar predictable mistake - impressed all those who saw it. Except, it seems, the nitwits who compiled that official list, on which they preferred Ferdinand's England partner, Sol Campbell.

There is always the danger, when choices are made before a tournament has come to an end, for those who make them to be left with abundant egg on their faces. Such, alas, was the fate of those who plumped for Oliver Kahn in goal and for the South Korean skipper, Hong Myung-Bo, as centre-back. Kahn had even been announced, after the final - though presumably on the basis of what had transpired before it - as the winner of the Golden Ball, himself.

But then what happened? Why, after all that excellence, those majestic saves which enabled a basically mediocre German team to go all the way to the Final, Kahn made the most abysmal and elementary of mistakes to give a present to Brazil of their opening goal, fumbling a straightforward shot by Rivaldo directly into the path of Ronaldo, who put it into the vulnerable goal. Whatever Kahn may have achieved before that awful moment, it was surely sufficient to rule him out, not only, for goodness' sake of the Golden Ball, but surely of being the incumbent of the goalkeeping role. Who then, should have had it? And may be broaden the argument by trying to choose a best world team which goes beyond the World Cup finals themselves.

I submit, having been out there myself, that there were better 'keepers than Kahn in the World Cup. Brazil's Marcos, for a start, whose displays did much to bury the uneasy memories of previous Brazilian 'keepers, such as the ever vulnerable Felix who erred both with the high crosses and the ground shots, in the generally dazzling Brazil 1970 World Cup winners. Marcos' save from a pulverising early second-half free-kick from Oliver Neuville in the final, turning the ball on to the post, was especially commendable. And then there was Brad Friedel.

Before hostilities began, it seemed that Friedel might have to give way to the USA's other fine goalkeeper, Kasey Keller, but with Keller injured it was Friedel who got the preference in the opening game against Portugal and how splendidly the big fellow responded. He saved a penalty in that game, he saved another against South Korea, and played a major role in America's unexpectedly long survival.

Just as impressive was the Turkish goalkeeper, Rustu Recber who, even when he was hurt, in some pain in the third place match won against South Korea, was equal to anything asked of him, a brave and resilient 'keeper indeed.

Ronaldo clearly must be beyond discussion. Without him, it is hardly conceivable that this Brazilian team could have won the world title. I saw his first full game against Costa Rica when the brilliance of the Brazilian attack, Ronaldo teamed with Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, made up for the poverty of their defence. Ronaldinho, whose diabolic free kick soared over the helpless head of England's David Seaman and put him out of contention for the best 'keeper award, despite his previous heroics, was another Brazilian with strong claims for a place in any World XI. Indeed, he it was who, with a jewelled pass, gave Ronaldo such a fine chance in the first-half of the final, only for Ronaldo to waste it with a feeble outside of the foot shot, which was so easily saved by Kahn.

When it comes to strikers however, what of the claims of Senegal's El Hadji Diouf, who ran rings around the clumsy French centre-back Frank Leboeuf in the opener, left him marooned three times and on one of those occasions made the winning goal for another candidate for preference, the big midfielder, Pape Bouba Diop. Much of the time El Diouf was left alone up front to plough a lonely if effective furrow, waiting for reinforcements which often arrived in the formidable shape of the left footed, tireless Khalilou Fadiga, seemingly unperturbed by his immediate pre-tournament outing as the thief of a jeweller's gold necklace. Both the prosecution and the jeweller left him off (falsely accused Bobby Moore was less lucky in Bogota just prior to the 1970 World Cup) and he immediately went on to play a major role in his team's progress.

Those who picked Hong Myung-Bo were seriously embarrassed as was he himself, when, in just 11 seconds after the start of the third place match against Turkey, the veteran central defender, playing the last of his 130 odd games for South Korea, allowed himself to be robbed of the ball, thus giving a devastatingly early goal to Turkey. He was substituted at half-time and disappeared into the gloaming.

One of the salient features of this largely mediocre World Cup was indeed what you might call the twilight of the gods. Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo were respectively the most expensive and the second dearest footballer in the history of the game. Zidane had some excuse, as I suppose did France since injury put him out of the first two French games and made him little more than walking wounded in the third, lost embarrassingly to Denmark.

As for Figo, he was declared fit after problems with injury but never really looked it. He performed poorly in Portugal's three games even suffering the ignominy of substitution. Go beyond the confines of the World Cup and Holland's Ruud van Nistelrooy surely merits consideration as an outstanding striker. But Juan Sebastien Veron, widely regarded as one of the most gifted and creative midfielders in the game was mysteriously flaccid in Argentina's doomed performance. If you regard the World Cup finals as the ultimate test just as you might regard the Olympics in the case of athletes, then I fear that Veron has to be failed. Yet a fully fit Michael Owen of England would surely always have a claim to be considered among the world's best strikers. Very sharp indeed he looked against Argentina but injury supervened.

His team-mate, David Beckham, was another who couldn't be judged, still far from recovered from that shocking foul by an Argentine hit man at Old Trafford, playing against Deportivo Coruna. David did his best and went beyond the call of duty in playing at all but we never saw the real Beckham. Even if I am one of those who thinks he plays, however effectively, within stringent limitations; lack of pace, control, heading ability.