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Luis Figo

World Cup Frustration

Portugal qualified for the World Cup in 2002, having advanced past the preliminaries for the first time in 16 years. The Portuguese were considered a serious contender, despite having to play the early round in Group D with host nation South Korea. The United States and Poland, each considered decided underdogs, were also in the group.

"Take a poll of the United States players and ask them which single player they are most worried about facing in the World Cup and the answer is unanimous: Luis Figo," said Los Angeles Times writers Mike Penner and Grahame Jones. "As reigning FIFA world player of the year and soccer's second-most expensive player of all time behind Zindedine Zidane, Figo is to Portugal what Zidane is to France. In a word, indispensable. If anyone can lead the Portuguese to the world championship they so desperately desire, it's the 29-year-old millionaire from a working-class suburb of Lisbon." Figo had helped real Madrid win the European Champions Cup in May, 2002.

Portugal, however, ran into a roadblock in its opening game when the U.S. bolted to a stunning 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 upset win. The Americans, wrote the Associated Press, "held under intense pressure from Portugal in the final 10 minutes of the first half and the first 40 minutes of the second, withstanding Luis Figo, the world's top player, and his talented teammates. The result was among the five greatest wins in U.S. soccer history." By contrast, the AP added, "the Portuguese looked as if they were playing with the weight of their shoulders." Portugal never recovered from the loss. It defeated Poland 4-0 but lost to South Korea 1-0 and went home.

Chronology

1972 Born November 4 in Almada, Portugal
1989 First played for Sporting Lisbon, at age 16
1991-92 Made Lisbon's starting lineup
1995 Signs provisional contracts with Italian teams Juventus and Parma, but FIFA bans him from playing in Italy for two years; signs instead with FC Barcelona
1995 Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff converts him from midfielder to right wing
2000 Registers only one assist in three games as Portugal drops two, including 3-2 defeat to United States, and fails to advance in World Cup
2001 Marries model Helen Swedin

Awards and Accomplishments

1989 Plays for Portuguese world champion under-16 team
1991 Plays for Portuguese world champion under-20 team
1996 Helps Portugal reach quarterfinals of European championships
2000 Helps lead Portugal to semifinals of European championships
2000 Wins Ballon D'Or (Golden Ball) Award
2001 World Footballer of the Year
2002 Real Madrid wins European Champions Cup

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsSoccerLuis Figo Biography - Raised In Lisbon, Controversy Over Transfer Fees, World Cup Frustration, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments