Papa Bouba Diop, a former midfielder who represented Senegal more than 60 times and played for several European football clubs, has died at the age of 42, reportedly following a long illness.
Diop scored the first goal of the 2002 World Cup held in Japan and South Korea when Senegal shocked reigning champions France by beating them 1-0 in the opening game.
Senegal football’s federation confirmed Diop’s death on Sunday.
Former French club Lens said it learned the news with “great sadness” and offered condolences to his family, while West London side Fulham, another former club, said they were “devastated” to hear of his death.
World football governing body FIFA, through its World Cup Twitter account, said it was “saddened to learn of the passing of Senegal legend Papa Bouba Diop”.
“Once a World Cup hero, always a World Cup hero.”
In the 2002 World Cup, Diop scored two more goals in Senegal’s 3-3 draw with Uruguay in the group stage to become their top scorer at the tournament as they went on to reach the quarter-finals.
In all, the versatile defensive midfielder made 63 appearances for his country scoring 11 goals.
Diop started his club career at Senegalese side ASC Diaraf before spells in Switzerland at Vevey, Neuchatel Xamax and Grasshoppers before joining French side Lens in 2002.
A move to Fulham followed and he spent three years at the club before a transfer to Portsmouth, where he was part of the team that won the 2007-08 FA Cup.
He also had short stints at West Ham United and Birmingham City before retiring from playing seven years ago.
Diop was reported to have had Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, according to British media reports.
Fulham and Portsmouth paid tribute on Twitter to the player nicknamed “The Wardrobe”.
Former Portsmouth midfielder Chris Kamara said that he was devastated to read the news.
“Didn’t know he’d been ill … he’s been taken too young,” Kamara tweeted. “We used to have a good chuckle together about me calling him ‘The Man Mountain Himself’. RIP Papa.”
Former Portsmouth goalkeeper David James also expressed his sadness about the death of Diop, whom he described as a “true gentleman”.
“How terribly sad,” tweeted former England striker and television presenter Gary Lineker. “Taken so young. RIP Papa Bouba Diop.”
– Al Jazeera and News agencies