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   June 29, 2002 | 1230 IST


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The World Cup is often the launchpad for a young player's budding career but it also brings to an end the international lifespan of some high profile players who have graced the game over the previous decade or so.

This year's tournament provided the final full stop to the international career of one of the greatest goalscorers in world soccer history, Gabriel Batistuta, 33, of Argentina.

Maldini Italy's Paolo Maldini, among the best defenders of all time who turned 34 on Wednesday, is bowing out of his national team.

Then there is the goalkeeper who played more internationals than they did, Saudi Arabia's Mohammad Al-Daeyea -- recognised by FIFA as the second most-capped player ever with 165 appearances -- and who has joined them in international retirement.

Luckily, his appearances were not all as traumatic as Saudi Arabia's opening match in the finals on June 1 when they lost 8-0 to Germany in Sapporo. If he hadn't made up his mind already, that game probably convinced him it was time to go.

Others, like England's 38-year-old pony-tailed veteran goalkeeper David Seaman, beaten by a match-winning 35-metre free kick from Ronaldinho when Brazil knocked England out in the quarter-finals, are still considering their options.

Some players won't, of course, have an option to consider since their coaches will decide for them -- if they themselves are still in a job after the finals.


Batistuta Batistuta made a bright start to the World Cup, heading the winner in Argentina's 1-0 victory over Nigeria in their opening match on June 2 -- his 10th goal overall in the finals.

Having scored hat-tricks in both the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, "Batigol" was looking for even more glory, but after failing to score in the 1-0 defeat against England and the 1-1 draw with Sweden, which saw Argentina eliminated in the first round, his World Cup ended as something of an anti-climax.

Still, Batistuta finished his international career with a record tally of 56 goals in 78 games and a secure place in football's history books.

A number of other high-profile strikers have also announced their retirements from the international scene.

Henrik Larsson of Sweden, 30, the only squad member to play in both the 1994 and 2002 finals -- they didn't qualify in 1998 -- announced his retirement after his country's second round exit at the hands of Senegal on June 16.

Larsson had opened the scoring in that match with his third goal of the finals, but Senegal hit back with a golden goal winner to dump the Swedes out 2-1.

Larsson has scored 24 goals in 72 internationals -- but whether he can be persuaded to play again remains to be seen.

Davor Suker of Croatia, 34, slipped more quietly from the international arena. The leading scorer in the 1998 finals with six goals, Suker was replaced after 64 minutes of Croatia's 1-0 defeat to Mexico in their opening match -- and did not play again. He scored 45 goals in 69 games for Croatia -- a record likely to stand for some time.

Fernando Hierro Despite being a defender, Fernando Hierro, with 29 goals in his 89 internationals, is Spain's leading all-time scorer -- and the 34-year-old bows out after missing only one of Spain's matches in the last three World Cups. He scored twice from the penalty spot in this tournament and must have believed he had a chance of leading Spain all the way to the finals until they lost to South Korea on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Niall Quinn of Ireland, who will be 36 in October, is another all-time record scorer to retire with 21 goals in 91 appearances.

Although he did not score in the finals he had a huge impact as a substitute and Ireland will definitely miss his height and intelligent play in the future.

They will also miss their most capped player of all time - skipper Steve Staunton, 32, who has quit after 102 games. He made his 100th appearance against Germany on June 5 and ends a 14-year international career with seven goals for his country.


The Italian team will never look quite the same again without the film-star good looks of Paolo Maldini at left-back.

After a record 126 appearances and seven goals for Italy, he could have beaten Lothar Matthaeus's all-time World Cup record of 25 games if Italy had played seven matches in the finals.

But they were eliminated 2-1 by South Korea in the second round -- which means he is now second on the all-time list behind the German with 23 appearances.

The great irony is that Maldini was out-jumped by South Korea's Jung-Hwan Ahn for the winning golden goal -- a rare mistake from one of the world's best-ever defenders.

Marc Wilmots, Belgium's leading World Cup scorer with five goals -- although it would have been six if his 'goal' against Brazil in the second round had not been wrongly ruled out for a non-existent push -- has said he is retiring from internationals.

Jay Jay Okocha of Nigeria, who has played in three different World Cups, Jan Heintze of Denmark, at 38 and 10 months the oldest player in the finals, and Frank Leboeuf, a member of France's 1998 winners, are also leaving the world stage.

Others, no doubt, will follow shortly.

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