5 players from Euro 2004 that are somehow still playing today: Ronaldo, Buffon…

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Euro 2004 will forever be remembered for Greece’s against-all-odds triumph, while the tournament itself provided a platform for some of the world’s most exciting young players to make a name for themselves.

Wayne Rooney’s performances in Portugal are the stuff of legend, but he wasn’t the only eye-catching youngster, and some of his contemporaries have since beaten him for longevity.

Here are five players from the tournament that are still playing today.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo went into Euro 2004 off the back of his debut season at Manchester United, in which he showed undoubted promise but only scored six goals in all competitions and had a frustrating tendency to over-elaborate. But once the tournament came around, the 19-year-old started to show more flashes of the player he’d become.

He scored the first of his 103 international goals with the kind of towering leap and well-struck header he’s since made his bread and butter, albeit in a 2-1 defeat to Greece in the group stage opener. The Greeks would later deny him in the final, a devastating 1-0 defeat on home soil for Portugal.

Safe to say he’s done alright since, helping Portugal win the tournament in 2016, and becoming one of the all-time greats of the sport.

Valeri Bojinov

The youngest player to feature at the tournament, Bojinov had only recently turned 18 when he was brought off the bench to support Dimitar Berbatov in attack in a 2-1 group stage defeat to Italy, where he cut his cloth as a player.

The striker was on Lecce’s books at the time and went on to represent Fiorentina, Juventus and Parma, with a fairly forgettable three-year stint at Manchester City during the Thaksin Shinawatra era.

Something of a journeyman since his time at the Etihad, he’s represented 18 clubs – the majority of them in Bulgaria – since 2010, and is currently playing for  Vitosha Bistritsa in the Bulgarian second tier.

 

 

Lukas Podolski

One of two teenagers named in Germany’s squad for Euro 2004, alongside a fresh-faced Bastian Schweinsteiger, Podolski had just caught the eye with 10 goals for Cologne in his debut Bundesliga campaign, while a career-best 24 league goals would come the following year.

Rudi Voller left him on the bench for the first two matches, draws against the Netherlands and Latvia, while he was introduced at half-time in the final group stage match against the Czech Republic, a 2-1 defeat that ensured their early exit.

Podolski arguably never quite fulfilled that early potential, but he was part of Die Mannschaft’s 2014 World Cup-winning squad, and he’s provided some magical moments with that left peg over the years.

The forward is still pulling up trees for Gornik Zabrze in Poland.

Lukas Podolski celebrates scoring from the halfway line during the Polish League match between Gornik Zabrze and Pogon Sczczecin, November 2022.

READ: Look Arsenal, Lukas Podolski has won the 2023 Puskas Award already

Gianluigi Buffon

The crazy thing is that Buffon wasn’t even young at Euro 2004. He was 26, five years older than his Italy team-mate Antonio Cassano, who retired four years ago after living the good life.

At that time, the goalkeeper had already made over 350 appearances, signed for Juventus for a record fee, and played every minute for the Azzurri at the 2002 World Cup.

He’s since won the World Cup and 11 league titles, become Serie A’s all-time appearance-maker, and left Juventus for a second time at the end of the 2020-21 season.

“As long as I have the arrogance or the assumption that I am a good goalkeeper, I will carry on and find something exciting. If I don’t find anything exciting, I could well retire, because I’ve done more or less everything by now,” the 46-year-old said.

“To be honest, I had a lot of contacts and I am analysing the proposals I received. The one I consider the most exciting, and when I find someone crazier than me, I’ll follow him. I recently received a message from a director of a club who in terms of ambition, madness and excitement can even beat me.”

Safe to say that Buffon didn’t retire that summer; he’s been playing for boyhood club Parma ever since.

Gianluigi Buffon, Italy goalkeeper during a FIFA all-stars match against Italy, 16 December 1998

READ: Six brilliant keepers who just couldn’t displace Buffon as Italy No.1

Igor Akinfeev

Russia were awful at Euro 2004, losing both their opening matches and finishing bottom of the group after wilting in the Portuguese heat.

An 18-year-old Akinfeev watched the tournament from the bench, but went on to make 111 appearances for his country and become a cult hero for his penalty-saving heroics at the 2018 World Cup hosted in Russia.

Now 37, the goalkeeper still captains CSKA Moscow.


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