7 players from Euro 2004 that are still playing today: Buffon, Ronaldo, Ibra…
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 seven players from the tournament that are still playing today.
Note: we’ve only included players that actually featured at the tournament here, so players such as Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who was only on the bench, miss out.
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 is now gearing up for his fifth Euros off the back of finishing Serie A’s top scorer with 29 league goals in 2020-21.
💎 Cristiano Ronaldo’s first goal for Portugal at Euro 2004 v Greece.
⭐️ Fast forward 16 years later and he now sits on 102 goals, the most of any Portugal player ever and has no plans of slowing down yet for A Seleção!pic.twitter.com/nR3oVX80Da
— Próxima Jornada (@ProximaJornada1) February 5, 2021
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 16 clubs – the majority of them in Bulgaria – since 2010, and is currently into his third stint with Levski Sofia.
2004 was a frustrating year for Robben; his final season at PSV was disrupted by hamstring injuries, while his debut campaign at Chelsea was stunted after breaking his metatarsal in a pre-season friendly.
In the midst of that, he had a Euro 2004 to remember, as part of a young contingent for the Netherlands alongside John Heitinga and Wesley Sneijder.
Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat was criticised for bringing on Robben as they defended a 2-1 lead over the Czech Republic in the group stage (they went on to lose 3-2), but the then-20-year-old winger redeemed himself by scoring the decisive penalty in Oranje’s first-ever shootout victory in the quarter-finals against Sweden.
No international honours have followed, but Robben has enjoyed a glittering club career and played a vital role as the Netherlands made it to the World Cup final in 2010 and semi-finals four years later. He came out of retirement in 2020 to make a sensational return to his first club Groningen.
— Planet Sport (@PlanetSportcom) June 10, 2021
One of football’s great characters, Joaquin is also a genuinely great player and two decades ago had a reputation as one of the most promising youngsters in Spain.
Having already featured at the 2002 World Cup, playing all 120 minutes of Spain’s controversial quarter-final defeat to hosts South Korea, the right-winger was a shoo-in for Inaki Saez’s Euro 2004 squad and featured as La Roja suffered a disappointing group-stage elimination.
Big moves to the likes of Real Madrid were touted as he made a name for himself at Real Betis, but the self-confessed homebody remained where he was loved until 2006, when he signed for Valencia.
Spells at Malaga and Fiorentina followed before he returned to Seville in 2015 – few could have predicted that Joaquin, then 34, would enjoy six more years back at the Benito Villamarin, with another contract extension signed to take him beyond 40 next season.
— Real Betis Balompié (@RealBetis_en) May 27, 2021
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. Now 36, Podolski has just been released by Turkish club Antalyaspor and is yet to announce what’s next.
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 43-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.”
Having helped fire Milan back into the Champions League with 15 goals in Serie A last season, 39-year-old Ibrahimovic made a remarkable return to the Swedish national team. However, injury has cruelly denied him a place at Euro 2020 – nearly 20 years after his first major tournament, the 2002 World Cup.
Having played a peripheral role as a teenager in Japan and South Korea, Ibra had become the main man by 2004, leading the line and scoring against Italy and Bulgaria before a penalty shootout round-of-16 defeat to the Netherlands. He was one of three Swedes to miss.