Top-level international football is a young man’s game these days, but try telling that to this lot. I’ve scoured the 16 squads at Euro 2008 to find an experienced XI of gnarled veterans that could potentially edge the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas out of the limelight given a following wind!
All these players are likely to start for their countries and, while they may not be household names now, who (apart from Leicester City fans) had heard of Theo Zagorakis before he was voted Player of the Tournament in 2004 — then aged 32!?
GK Antonis Nikopolidis (Greece) Age 37. The George Clooney lookalike, although I don’t see it myself, may need to play like Batman if Greece are going to do anything about retaining the Henri Delaunay trophy. Saved three out of six penalties faced in the Greek Super League this season though, so could earn hero status in a shoot-out.
RB Cosmin Contra (Romania) Age 32. The former AC Milan and West Bromwich Albion full-back is rolling back the years with Getafe now — and capable of getting forward and scoring spectacular goals — just ask anyone from Bayern Munich.
LB Joan Capdevilla (Spain) Age 30. This wily campaigner has been around La Liga and the Champions League for years and now surges down the left for Villarreal. Luis Aragones now favours him for Spain and he will not let anyone down with his whole-hearted displays. He scored in consecutive internationals this season and could prove to be a big game player at Euro 2008.
CB Olof Mellberg (Sweden) Age 30. Aston Villa fans are gutted this whole-hearted performer is joining Juventus after becoming accustomed to his steady influence on the back four. He will probably line-up in central defence for Sweden and should relish group tussles with Pavel Pobgreniak and Fernando Torres. But if things go wrong he is likely to fight his own team-mates.
CB Robert Kovac (Croatia) Age 34. A lynchpin in Croatia’s defence who reads the game and mastered the dark arts of stopping forwards a long time ago. The Dortmund defender has never had pace, but makes up for this with his presence and leadership skills. His experience and knowledge of the Germany players will be a big help in that group clash while he remains a threat from set pieces.
MF Konstantin Zyrianov (Russia) Age 30. Zenit St Petersburg’s unselfish engine room who has blossomed into a true world class performer later in his career than most. Zyrianov pops up with important goals and will probably cover more ground than any player over 30 in the tournament.
MF Jacek Kryznowek (Poland) Age 32. He was his country’s most consistent performer in qualifying and scorer of the vital, late equaliser against Portugal in Lisbon. The Wolfsburg midfielder was twice Polish Player of the Year earlier in his career before suffering cruciate knee ligament damage. Now he’s back to his best and enjoying the responsibility entrusted to him by coach Leo Beenhakker.
MF Mehmet Aurelio (Turkey) Age 30. This naturalised Turk of Brazilian stock could be the clone of Arsenal’s Gilberto Silva. Like the Arsenal man, he shuts down opponents and uses the ball really well, applying the coach’s tactics on the field. However, he rarely gets into the box or finds himself in shooting positions, so if he impresses it will be as a destroyer of the opposition playmaker.
RW Libor Sionko (Czech Republic) Age 31. A previously anonymous squad member and benchwarmer who comes into the tournament as the Czechs’ most in-form forward. Sionko still has good pace and will be asked to burst into space down the right as part of the Czech counter-attacks.
LW Antonio Di Natale (Italy) Age 30. The Udinese striker is another late developer at international level, but has proved to be a lucky charm for Roberto Donadoni in qualifying. The left-sided striker’s role has been earmarked for this predominantly right-footed finisher who works hard enough to make the 4-3-3 tactic ‘Plan A’ for Italy.
CF Miroslav Klose (Germany) Age 29, but turns 30 on June 9th. As top scorer in the last two World Cups, he possesses the pedigree of a tournament goalscorer — someone who gets hot for a three-week spell in midsummer. The Bayern hitman’s aerial prowess is well known, but he also has a good appreciation of team-mates and can be a great foil for a lively partner.