Where did the time go?

An astonishing XI of players at Euro 2024 born after Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal debut

Twenty years on from his first Euros, Cristiano Ronaldo is gearing up for Euro 2024 with Portugal in hope of winning one last trophy with the national team.

It’s been quite the ride for the man who made his senior Portugal debut in 2003 and took to Euro 2004 as a scrawny teenager with blonde highlights and tape over his earrings, having blossomed into one of the greatest players the game will ever see.

In the time since, Ronaldo has been capped over 200 times for his country, scored the most international goals in the men’s game, won Euro 2016 and countless other trophies, won five Ballons d’Or and much more.

Plenty of young ballers have also been born in that time and are now forging their own legacies, looking to steal the show at Euro 2024.

We’ve compiled an XI of the players born after Ronaldo’s Portugal debut in 2003; if it’s not a good enough side to win right now, it certainly would be in the next few years.

GK: Bart Verbruggen

We’re making an exception to the rule. Just hear us out.

Verbruggen is the youngest keeper officially going to Euro 2024 after Simon Simonski – who was born after Ronaldo’s Portugal debut – was omitted from Albania’s final squad.

Belgium and Brighton stopper Verbruggen is still only 21, though, and was born just a year before Ronaldo’s debut. It was either that or Adam Wharton doing a shift in net.

RB: Zeno Debast

No more rule exceptions are needed with the rest of the XI, who were rather disgustingly all born after Ronaldo had made his Portugal debut. If watching him try to press a defence or chase a loose ball doesn’t make you feel old, this certainly will. Ageing is great, isn’t it?

A centre-back by trade, we’ve gone a little Italian and shoved Debast in at right-back. He’s capable of stepping up into midfield, though, so he won’t mind.

Capped eight times already for Belgium, the 20-year-old was born in October 2003, a few months after Ronaldo’s Portugal debut.

He’s an absolute behemoth at the back and will no doubt be pivotal to Belgium’s post-golden generation rebuild.

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CB: Antonio Silva

A fellow Portuguese, Silva – born in October 2003 – wouldn’t have even been one when Ronaldo laced up for Euro 2004, but is now his teammate 20 years on.

The towering central defender broke through at Benfica in 2022-23 and helped them to the Portuguese league title, and has already been capped 10 times for his country.

A good tournament might just be the key to tempting another side into throwing money at Benfica for his services.

CB: Leopold Querfeld

Querfeld is a perhaps more unknown quantity alongside Silva, but the 2003-born defender will impress if given the chance to shine by Ralf Rangnick for Austria.

Playing his club football at Rapid Wien, the 20-year-old has recently broken into the side under Rangnick and provides both a brilliant passing range and strong positioning.

LB: Milos Kerkez

Born in Serbia, Kerkez represents Hungary at international level and was one of the standout performers for Andoni Iraola’s Bournemouth side throughout the 2023-24 season.

A strong debut campaign in the Premier League has already seen him linked to Ronaldo’s former club Manchester United before the Euros has even kicked off.

Plenty of people are tipping Hungary to impress and find a way out of Group A alongside Germany.

Any success for the Hungarians will likely involve Kerkez being at his best. A serious young gun.

CM: Aleksandar Pavlovic

Adam Wharton is extremely unfortunate to miss out here, but in order to not make this a two-player England midfield and to give Pavlovic his flowers properly, we’ve opted for the German.

The 20-year-old only made his Bayern Munich debut in October 2023, but has been so strong since then that he’s forced Joshua Kimmich to return to right-back.

Nominated for the 2024 Golden Boy award, he was born literally weeks before Ronaldo took to the pitch at Euro 2004. Frighteningly young.

Kobbie Mainoo, Lamine Yamal, Warren Zaire-Emery

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CM: Kobbie Mainoo

Some will back Wharton, others will argue for Kobbie until they’re blue in the face. We think you should stop putting unnecessary pressure on youngsters and going overboard with the criticism of one at expense of the other.

Having said that, Mainoo is our pick in this XI, purely down to the sheer influence he’s had at United since breaking in during the 2023-24 season.

Seriously, it’s mind-blowing to think how much worse off they’d have been without the 19-year-old in their midfield.

After scoring in the FA Cup final and making the leap straight from England’s under-18s to the senior side, there’s no denying his talent.

Who knows, perhaps Ronaldo would’ve stuck around at Old Trafford had he debuted sooner.

CM: Warren Zaire-Emery

The ballers are getting younger with each advancing position and it’s making us feel increasingly nauseous.

Zaire-Emery burst onto the scene at Paris Saint-Germain in 2023 and became the youngest captain of the French under-21 side in 30 years last September.

Since then, he’s become Les Bleus’ third-youngest debutant, won the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award and helped PSG to two league titles.

Born in 2006, the sky really is the limit.

RW: Lamine Yamal

Did the phrase ‘born in 2006’ just hit you like a punch in the gut? Try this one on for size.

Lamine Yamal was born in July 2007. Forget Ronaldo for a moment – he was born after the first iPhone was released. Sickening.

The 16-year-old is still wearing braces and asking his parents for money for FIFA points on the Xbox, but he’s also playing for Spain at Euro 2024. We’ve not got the superlatives to describe this lad.

Lamine Yamal of FC Barcelona

READ: 7 depressingly recent events that are older than Barcelona wonderkid Lamine Yamal

ST: Kenan Yildiz

Poached by Juventus from the Bayern Munich academy in 2022, Yildiz is one of several talented young Turkish internationals who are carrying the hopes of a nation on their shoulders already – and for good reason.

The imposing forward scored on debut for Juve against Frosinone in late 2023 and has finished his first senior season with 32 appearances and four goals to his name for the Old Lady’s first team.

If Turkey can hang around in the competition for longer than they did in 2021, there ought to be plenty of opportunity for the 19-year-old to showcase his potential.

LW: Leo Sauer

Breaking through at Feyenoord, 18-year-old winger Sauer is fearless when shaping up a defender and has a brilliant eye for skinning his marker.

Born in 2005, he’s been capped twice for Slovakia already, becoming the youngest player to debut for the country when he came on as a substitute in March of this year.

It’s a huge vote of confidence in the youngster who will have the chance to shine against challenging competition in Group E in Belgium, Ukraine and Romania.