The draw for the group stage of the 16th edition of the European Championship took place in Bucharest on Saturday, as the 20 already-qualified countries learned their fate. There are still four spots to be determined at next March’s play-offs, but we now know who the vast majority of sides will be playing in the first round of next summer’s pan-European competition.
It’s been twelve years since that dramatic day at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, when Portugal’s dream of winning the European Championship on home soil were crushed by a surprising Greek team. Greece won the 2004 final 1-0 with a goal by Angelos Charisteas, making a young Cristiano Ronaldo cry like a child.
However, Portugal got their redemption, as they are finally the kings of European football. The Selecao beat hosts France in the Euro 2016 final by the same score as the one in 2004: 1-0. A goal in extra time by Eder did the job for Ronaldo and his teammates, handing France the same fate: losing a European Championships final on home soil.
Maybe it had something to do with experience. Or maybe not. That 2004 Portugal team had very experienced star players, like Luis Figo and Deco. And they played 29-year-old Pauleta in attack, just like Les Bleus played 29-year-old Olivier Giroud next to Antoine Griezmann (25).
It’s an historical fact that teams who reached the final of the Euros or a World Cup this century have had at least one striker above the age of 27 starting the game. The only exception to this rule was Spain, who started a 24-year-old Fernando Torres during the Euro 2008 final against Germany.
This seems to be a big issue for a nation like Belgium. The Red Devils, with new coach Roberto Martinez, have four strikers in their current squad: Christian Benteke (25), Romelu Lukaku (23), Michy Batshuayi (22), and Divock Origi (21). Belgium were one of the favourites to win Euro 2016 but were eliminated by Wales in the quarter-finals, suffering the same fate during the 2014 World Cup against Argentina.
Beneteke will be 27 when the 2018 World Cup arrives, meaning it would be wise for Martinez to play the Crystal Palace striker. However, the Spanish manager seems to rely on a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Lukaku (then 25) as his first option.
If history repeats itself, Belgium won’t make it to the final. Unless, they play as great as the 2008 Spain team… Yeah, right.
European Championships 2000
France: Christophe Dugarry (28)
Italy: Marco Delvecchio (27) – Francesco Totti (23)
World Cup 2002
Brazil: Rivaldo (30) – Ronaldo (25)
Germany: Oliver Neuville (29) – Miroslav Klose (24)
European Championships 2004
Greece: Zisis Vryzas (30) – Stelios Giannakopoulos (30) – Angelos Charisteas (24)
Portugal: Pauleta (29)
World Cup 2006
Italy: Francesco Toni (29) – Luca Totti (29)
France: Thierry Henry (29)
European Championships 2008
Spain: Fernando Torres (24)
Germany: Miroslav Klose (30)
World Cup 2010
Spain: David Villa (28)
Holland: Robin Van Persie (27)
European Championships 2012
Spain: Andres Iniesta (28) – David Silva (26)
Italy: Antonio Cassano (30) – Mario Balotelli (22)
World Cup 2014
Germany: Miroslav Klose (36)
Argentina: Gonzalo Higuain (26) – Lionel Messi (27)
European Championships 2016
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo (31) – Nani (29)
France: Olivier Giroud (29) – Antoine Griezmann (25)