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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Young guns (go for it)
By Tom Fordyce

Or, if you prefer, dig the new breed.

Euro 2004 has one game to go, but already the face of European football has been changed forever.

The established names, the men who came into this tournament as the global stars, are on the run from the new generation.

From goalkeeper right through to centre-forward, the old guard is being usurped by fresh talent.

A graphic showing the young stars replacing the old at Euro 2004

Two years ago in Japan, Oliver Kahn's form carried Germany all the way through to the World Cup final.

This time, he could do nothing to prevent his side going out at the group stage - whereas the Czech Republic's Petr Cech is being talked about as the most talented 22-year-old keeper in memory.

In defence, the French triumvirate of Desailly, Thuram and Lizarazu have had their day. On form alone you would also be looking to move on Mikael Silvestre, but at 26 years old we have to give him more time.

Ashley Cole, 23, could hardly have played any better than he did against Portugal and Ledley King was completely at home at the same age against France.

Portugal's Jorge Andrade has continued the assured form he showed for Deportivo in last season's Champions League.

On the right, Holland's 30-year-old Michael Reiziger has - like much of the great Ajax generation of 1995 - looked a spent force.

Meanwhile, Portugal's 24-year-old Miguel has shown enough both in defence and going forward to spark interest from the Premiership, despite Benfica's reported 8m price tag.

Luis Figo chases the ball
Figo has looked far from his old imperious best

A month ago, a midfield line-up of David Beckham, Claude Makelele, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo looked unbeatable.

Now three of them are at home with their feet up.

The other, Figo, looked much more like his old self in the semi-final win over Holland, but against England he was replaced by a 21-year-old who could not even get in the Tottenham first team.

The happiest man in Britain after that quarter-final must have been Sir Alex Ferguson.

As a Scot he might have been pleased at England's exit but, more than that, the way Ronaldo utterly out-shone Beckham made his decision to sell the latter and buy the former for half the price look like prophecy of the most telling sort.

Beckham looked half the player he once was. Ronaldo looked like a man on the brink of something special.

Another happy manager will be Chelsea's new boss Jose Mourinho. Arjen Robben was signed before he arrived at Stamford Bridge, and the 20-year-old was Holland's outstanding player in the quarter-final win over Sweden.

As for Makelele - well, Mourinho's former charge at Porto, Maniche, has been far more impressive in the holding midfield role.

You could quibble at criticism of Zidane after his match-winning contribution against England.

But L'Equipe called him "useless" after the defeat by Greece, when he was out-played by the unheralded Georgios Karagounis.

Nods of approval too for Gemany's Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 19-year-old's vim was one of the few bright points in a grey German side.

Striking successes

Up front, Raul once again failed to justify his pre-competition billing. Like Beckham, the Real striker has never succeeded in bringing his club form into a major international tournament.

Milan Baros, by contrast, has done the opposite - going from Liverpool misfit to Euro 2004 leading scorer in a way that Emile Heskey could only dream of.

And who else could you choose to take over the creative and goalscoring role that Alessandro del Piero once filled than Wayne Rooney?

At 29, Del Piero is hardly an old man. But when the new star is 11 years your junior, it renders ordinary arguments obsolete.





Links to more Euro 2004 stories


 

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