With the Premier League and Championship amongst many others on a break and the World Cup now in full swing, players from across the UK and abroad will be hoping to make their mark on this year’s tournament.
Sunderland have provided many teams with players throughout the history of the World Cup, including the current tournament in Qatar where current first-team players Bailey Wright and Jewison Bennette are with their respective countries Australia and Costa Rica.
Here is a look back at the top five Sunderland players who have represented the Black Cats at the World Cup finals.
Top Five Sunderland Players to Feature at the World Cup
Thomas Sorensen, Denmark
The great Dane Thomas Sorensen was a fan favourite on Wearside between 1998 and 2003 and is still remembered fondly. His penalty save from Alan Shearer at Newcastle in the Tyne and Wear derby will be etched into fans’ memories forever.
During his time at Sunderland, he established himself as Denmark’s number one, following in the footsteps of Manchester United great Peter Schmeichel.
In the 2002 World Cup hosted by South Korea and Japan, Sorensen and his Denmark teammates enjoyed a superb group stage, beating France and Uruguay to top their group table. It set up a last-16 match with England where Denmark’s journey would end when they lost 3-0 to Sven-Göran Eriksson’s men.
Billy Bingham, Northern Ireland
Speed and an eye for goal made Billy Bingham a favourite at both club and international levels. At the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, a tournament that also included England, Wales and Scotland, the Irish and Bingham impressed in a group that featured Argentina, West Germany and Czechoslovakia.
They progressed to the last 16 but were beaten convincingly by France and their superstar striker Just Fontaine who would finish as the top scorer in the tournament with 13 goals as the French finished in third place.
John Mensah, Ghana
Defender John Mensah was an imposing player when fit. Despite constant injury problems, he endeared himself to the people of Wearside. Following a season-long loan at Sunderland, Mensah was selected for the Ghana squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Ghana finished second in their group behind Germany and defeated the United States en route to the quarter-finals where they faced Uruguay. With the score at 1-1 and just seconds remaining of extra time, Ghana were awarded a penalty. Striker Asamoah Gyan who would join Sunderland himself soon after the World Cup hit the bar with his spot-kick with Uruguay winning the following penalty shoot-out.
Mensah would return to Sunderland for a second loan after the tournament following his impressive displays for Ghana and competing in each game. However, injuries returned and he would make just 18 appearances.
Claudio Reyna, USA
Captain America, Claudio Reyna joined Sunderland in 2001 from Rangers for £4.75 million and almost instantly became a fan favourite with his goals and all action displays.
Reyna went to the 2002 World Cup as the captain of his country and led them to a successful tournament. The USA reached the quarter-finals but were narrowly beaten 1-0 by the eventual runners-up Germany.
As for Reyna’s career following the World Cup, he suffered a season-ending injury during the early stages of Sunderland’s Premier League season. The Black Cats without Reyna suffered relegation and he moved on to Manchester City.
Niall Quinn, Republic of Ireland
Former striker, manager, chairman and forever Sunderland hero, Niall Quinn represented the club at the 2002 World Cup. He had already featured at a World Cup; however, it was 12 years previous at Italia 90. Now at the age of 36, he would be playing for his country at the highest level as their all-time top scorer.
Finishing unbeaten in their group, they finished second to Germany where they went on to face Spain in the last 16. The game ended 1-1 after extra time, Quinn earning his team a late penalty in normal time; however, they would be beaten on penalties.
Quinn announced his international retirement after the tournament and also retired from club football just a few short months later. Quinn ended his playing days as a legend in both Ireland and Sunderland and continues to be so.
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