[FLOPS] One after another, the world's biggest stars flopped on the biggest stage, beginning with Englishman Wayne Rooney. For a ranking of the World Cup flops (which excludes players still in the tournament) ...
1. WAYNE ROONEY. How did Rooney go from the most feared striker in the English Premier League to a non-factor for England at the World Cup? He almost single-handedly carried Manchester United most of the EPL season, scoring a career-high 34 goals in all competitions, but had nothing left for the World Cup, where he went scoreless.
Rooney suffered late-season injuries -- first an ankle injury, then a calf injury -- but those close to Rooney insist that he was the fittest he'd been in six months. "There is nothing wrong with the lad or his fitness," United coach Alex Ferguson.
It didn't help Rooney that he had the poorest supporting cast of the pre-tournament favorites -- none of the so-called England stars had a good tournament -- or that he was often isolated up front.
Ferguson insisted Rooney suffered under the weight of expectations. "There was talk that he was going to be the player of the tournament," said the United manager. "Don't forget, that was the prelude to the whole thing. He was going to be the star, he was going to outshine them all: Messi, Ronaldo. So that level of expectation comes into it."
2. FRANCK RIBERY. No player's reputation has taken a greater hit than that of Ribery, who teamed up with Rooney in the Nike "write your future" ad campaign. The Frenchman was ineffective in France's first two games when his contributions mattered and one of the instigators in the Bleus' meltdown off the field.
Ribery's behind-the-scenes maneuvering first got Thierry Henry removed from the starting lineup so he could play on the left side of the attack and then pushed Yoann Gourcuff out of the starting lineup after the opening game. The Bayern Munich star's World Cup was only memorable for a teary appearance on French television.
3. CRISTIANO RONALDO. Another Nike endorsee, Ronaldo only matches Argentina's Lionel Messi for star appeal, but he suffered through another mediocre tournament with Portugal. He scored only one goal at the World Cup -- and it has a lucky one. The ball rolled on his back and his head before he stroked it into the goal against hapless North Korea.
As it turned out, the seven goals the Portuguese scored against North Korea were their entire output for the tournament. Like Rooney, his former Manchester United teammate, Ronaldo was often isolated up front. It didn't help that two key attackers, Deco and Nani, were injured. Deco played 62 minutes in the opener, and Nani didn't make it to South Africa.
4. KAKA. Before Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka was on top of the world, having won the 2007 Player of the Year awards. His decline was evident this past season at Real Madrid, where had only eight goals in 25 La Liga games and one goal in seven UEFA Champions League games.
Kaka went to Brazil for a personal fitness program before the start of World Cup preparations, but it was clearly not enough. Like, Rooney, Ribery and Messi, Kaka finished without a goal.
5. DIDIER DROGBA. The Ivory Coast star was lucky to even play at the World Cup. A broken arm suffered on the eve of the tournament kept him on the bench for the start of the first game against Portugal.
Expectations for Drogba and the Elephants were probably unrealistic, but they were there. The Chelsea star was supposed to be the African star of the World Cup, but he finished with only one goal, and Ivory Coast was again eliminated (for all intents and purposes) after two games.
6. LIONEL MESSI. Messi a flop? After leading Argentina to four wins in its first four games? He had a much better World Cup than stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka but the standard was also much higher for the reigning World Player of the Year, who scored 47 goals -- 34 in league play -- for Barcelona in 2009-10. No goals in five games and an ignominious exit against Germany are not the mark of a successful World Cup.
Without the same supporting cast he has at Barcelona -- notably, Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield -- Messi was isolated in the quarterfinal match against Germany, which forced him to receive the ball far from goal.