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World Cup 2010: Top 10 highest-paid players now a little less rich

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Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP/File

(Read caption) Barcelona's Lionel Messi of Argentina duels for the ball with Sevilla's Didier Zokora from Ivory Coast (right) during their La Liga soccer match in Sevilla, Spain, last month. Messi, the highest-paid player at World Cup 2010, has lost up to $5.5 million in dollar terms because of the euro's plunge since March.

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When the World Cup begins Friday in South Africa, some of the world's richest athletes will scramble for perhaps the most prized title in world team sports.

But even on the tip of Africa, Europe's debt crisis is having an impact. The highest-paid soccer players at the World Cup are a little less rich today.

Take Lionel Messi, dubbed the world's best-paid footballer by France Football, which pegged his annual earnings at 33 million euros, including endorsements.

That's a cool $45.1 million. Or at least, it was in March, when the French magazine came out with its list of the soccer's highest paid players.

But the euro's slide has cut Messi's buying power by $5.5 million, assuming that the ├╝ber-talented Argentine is paid exclusively in euros. (He plays for Barcelona; a big sponsor is Adidas.)

Five others among the Top 10 best-paid players at the World Cup are in the same boat because they play for pro teams in the euro zone. No. 2 Cristiano Ronaldo, playing for Real Madrid, has lost up to $5 million in dollar terms since March. His teammate No. 3 Kaka has lost up to $3.2 million. (Click on the chart above.)

Collectively, the six players have lost $21 million -- an average $3.5 million apiece -- in dollar buying power since March. (Again, that assumes their earnings are all in euros.)

Granted, these athletes continue to earn in a year what most people could never earn in several lifetimes. Still, if you're a soccer superstar concerned about preserving the value of your pay, consider playing for an English team.

Because the British pound has fallen less against the dollar than the euro, Carlos Tevez of Manchester City has lost a mere $770,000 since March. Chelsea's Frank Lampard has lost $710,000. (This assumes they're paid uniquely in pounds.)

This may be one reason that Britain has become a magnet for elite players.

A better solution, at least if you're a fan of the greenback, is to play in the United States. David Beckham's "time-share" arrangement, where he plays partly for Milan and partly for the Los Angeles Galaxy, has probably sheltered his earnings somewhat and could conceivably make him, again, the world's highest paid soccer player. But an injury means he'll miss the World Cup.

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Even the top soccer players don't earn quite at the level of other stars like, say, Kobe Bryant of the NBA ($45 million) or pro golfer Tiger Woods ($110 million). Since they're US athletes paid in dollars, they've been sheltered from the euro storm.

Then again, they'll never know what it means to win a World Cup.

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