Gone but not forgotten
© AFP

During 2007 the football world lost not only numerous former greats already guaranteed their place in football legend, but also several young stars of the future. Yet again, the toll paid by football was a heavy one, and included the death of a top-level player during a La Liga match in Spain.

On 25 August 2007, during a game between his lifelong club Sevilla and Getafe, the wingback Antonio Puerta collapsed on the field at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium after suffering a cardiac arrest. Having received first-aid on the pitch, he regained consciousness before returning to the changing rooms, where he suffered four further cardiac arrests. Hospitalised in a serious condition, he finally lost his fight for life three days later as a result of these heart complications.

Twice a UEFA Cup winner and one of Spanish football's brightest young talents, Puerta's departure at the age of 24 has made him a symbol ofthe Seville football club. "From now on, our team is invincible because Antonio's spirit will always be with us. There will be twelve of us on the field now," declared Jose Maria Del Nido, chairman of the Andalusian outfit, a few hours after the sad news emerged.

At the end of the year, this tragic event was then mirrored at Motherwell's FirPark ground in Scotland as the home side took on Dundee United. Well midfielder and captain Phil O'Donnell passed away in hospital on 29 December after being taken ill on the pitch a few hours earlier.

Aged 35, O'Donnell was in his final season with the club where he had started out as a 17-year-old in 1990. In the interim, he enjoyed spells with Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday and earned one cap for the Scottish national team.

South Africawas also struck by tragedy during 2007 when one of the country's rising stars, Mpho Gift Leremi, met his death in a car accident during September. Dubbed Vroom Vroom due to his pace on the pitch, the 23-year-old attacking midfielder had been a linchpin of the South African U-23 side and been capped by the Bafana Bafana at senior level on four occasions. Another less high-profile young footballer who also gave up his life last year doing what he loved most was 21-year-old Jairo Nazareno, victim of a heart attack on 3 September during a match in the Ecuadorian third division.

A gifted player and coach
The beautiful game also bid goodbye to some erstwhile greats whose names are forever etched in football history. Of these, the best known was undoubtedly Nils Liedholm, who departed this mortal coil on 5 November at the age of 85, having grown to symbolise the capacity of footballers to reinvent themselves as successful coaches. A former Sweden skipper and a finalist at the 1958 FIFA World Cup™, Liedholm also lifted four scudetti with AC Milan.

Alongside his countrymen Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl, he formed the famous 'GRE-NO-LI' three-pronged attack that would later inspire Silvio Berlusconi to put together his magical Dutch trio of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. After hanging up his playing boots, Liedholm stayed in Italy where he won another title as coach of the Rossoneri, before rounding off a magnificent career in fine style at Roma with a further scudetto in 1983 and a hat-trick of Italian cups.

"We've lost a master, someone who was a great person as well as a great coach. His death will leave a huge void." This tribute was paid to Liedholm by Arrigo Sacchi, former coach of AC Milan and the Italian national team.

Derwall in the West, Buschner in the East
Jupp Derwall, who died on 26 June last year at the age of 80, was one of the greatest coaches ever to serve the Federal Republic of Germany. First, he guided the West Germans to glory at the 1980 European Championship inItaly, before losing out in the final of the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain after having overcome France in a legendary semi-final battle. Having chalked up 45 wins in 67 internationals, he made way for a certain Franz Beckenbauer and then eventually retired in 1989 after recording one last title triumph in Turkey with Galatasaray in 1987.

While Derwall was at the helm of the West German side, Georg Buschner was in charge of their East German counterparts. National coach from 1970 to 1981, this former six-times capped international steered the GDR to a gold medal at the 1976 Olympic Games followed by a bronze in 1980. On 12 February 2007, he left this life at the ripe old age of 82.

Another of his generation, the Austrian Helmut Senekowitsch, also passed away on 9 September. Having represented his country as a right winger, he then coached the Austrian national side between 1976 and 1978.

On the subject of renowned coaches, the 61-year-old Scot Ian Porterfield was claimed by cancer of the colon scarcely one season after taking over the Armenian national side. A legendary player in his day for Sunderland, he will be best remembered for his spectacular goal in the 1973 FA Cup final that gave the Wearsiders , then a second division side, an upset victory over top-flight goliaths Leeds United. He subsequently embarked on a successful managerial career, which took in Sheffield United, Chelsea and then a clutch of foreign posts, most notably in Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Moreover, six weeks after leading his young charges to triumph in the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, Yemi Tella, coach of the fledgling world champions Nigeria, passed away on 20 October due to lung cancer. Having been initially hospitalised in Korea last June during the Eight Nations Tournament, the Golden Eaglets' mentor had received immediate treatment and been able to overcome his illness sufficiently to guide his team to a runners-up spot.

England bids farewell to a champion
During the past year, England also said goodbye to one of its 1966 FIFA World Cup-winners, Alan Ball, who suffered a heart attack on 25 April at the age of 62. Clocking up 72 caps and scoring eight goals in his Three Lions career between 1965 and 1975, Ball was England's youngest player at the 1966 tournament. Often regarded as England's best performer in the final, he supplied the through ball from which Geoff Hurst struck the second of his three goals.

Tears aplenty were also shed during 2007 in Romania, which mourned the departure of several former internationals. Florea Dumitrache, who garnered 31 caps and 15 goals between 1968 and 1974, fell victim to a brain haemorrhage on 26 October, aged 59.

Nicolae Dobrin, meanwhile, was lost on 26 October at the age of 60 following a lengthy illness. As well as 408 first division appearances and 111 goals and eight goals in 25 games in Europe, he wore the national shirt on 48 occasions, netting six times. First capped at 18, he appeared at both the 1970 FIFA World Cup and the 1972 European Championship. Supremely skilful, he was voted Romanian footballer of the year in 1966, 1967 and 1971 and infamously had his transfer to Real Madrid blocked by the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Other great FIFA World Cup names who passed away in 2007 include the Slovakian midfielder Andrej Kvasnak, a finalist at Chile1962 with Czechoslovakia, who died aged 71 on 18 April, and France's no-nonsense defender from their side that finished third at Sweden 1958, Raymond Kaelbel, who passed away on 17 April at the age of 75. Capped 35 times for Les Bleus, the man from the Alsaceregion turned out for his country at both the 1954 and 1958 tournaments and accumulated 500 Ligue 1 appearances.

A Barcelona legend from the 1950s, Mariano Gonzalvo, also passed away last year, at the age of 85. This fine midfielder won five Spanish titles and three cups with the Catalan club and also featured in the national team that came fourth at the 1950 FIFA World Cup.

Former Portuguese goalkeeper Manuel Bento was another to leave us during 2007, at the age of 59. Bento represented his country 63 times, including in the semi-final of the 1984 European Championship when the Iberians lost out to France after extra time. First choice for the 1986 FIFA World Cup, he was forced to give way to Vítor Damas after fracturing a leg in training.

A paragon of loyalty, he kept goal for Benfica for no less than 20 years from 1972. Sandro Salvadore, meanwhile, who died last year aged 68, was one of the defensive cornerstones of the Squadra Azzurra side crowned European champions in 1968. He also lifted five scudetti; three with Juventus and two with Milan.

Whisked away in their prime
Other international players who will never get the opportunity to grace a FIFA World Cup have at least left indelible imprints in the history of their national teams. Salou Tadjou, former captain of the Togolese Sparrowhawks, was taken tragically at the young age of 33 after a long illness. Ghana's international defender, Patrick Allotey, was another who succumbed to illness during 2007, at the tender age of 28. A winner at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Ecuador1995, he played for the two Rotterdam clubs, Feyenoord and Excelsior, between 1996 and 2001.

The 23-year-old Honduran midfielder, Edy Vazquez, had seemed destined for a glittering career. Fate, however, decreed otherwise when the young international met his death in a traffic accident on 12 May, in which two of his team-mates were also injured.

This list is, sadly, by no means complete. As we embark upon this new year, FIFA.com would like to pay tribute to all lovers of the beautiful game who left us in 2007.