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9 players from the 2006 World Cup we can’t believe will still be in 2022

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The 2006 World Cup featured a glut of star and player names that would define their era – but it’s still a surprise to see so many of them still playing 16 years after the tournament ended.

The defining images of the final still shine through today; Graham Poll’s three yellow cards, Argentina holding their own goalscoring competition of the tournament, the battle for Nuremberg, Wayne Rooney sent off against Portugal and Zinedine Zidane’s iconic header in the final.

But many of the tournament’s best players were experienced players. Of the 23 named to the FIFA All-Star Team – including Phillip Lahm, Andrea Pirlo and Thierry Henry – the vast majority have long since hung up their boots.

Even high-profile youngsters like Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres are no longer professional footballers. But a strong group of talented players remain active in the game and remain among the best in the world.

We’ve identified nine current players who took part in Germany 2006 and how they’re doing today.

Lionel Messi

Argentina were the star performers at the 2006 World Cup, becoming neutral favorites with spellbinding attacking football and generally feeling like they were playing a different sport to England.

Their team was built around Juan Roman Riquelme and, with Hernan Crespo hitting in goal up front, Messi found himself on the bench – which was seen as controversial in Argentina.

An 18-year-old Messi scored in Serbia and Montenegro’s 6-0 blitz and had a goal questionably ruled out for offside in the last 16 win over Mexico.

But manager Jose Pekerman’s decision not to call on Messi in the quarter-final in Germany drew widespread criticism as it was clear even then that the Barcelona striker was a special talent.

Fortunately, Messi has spent the rest of his career proving that he is one of the best footballers to ever play, even at PSG this year.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s tournament in 2006 was all about ‘the wink’.

He was one of the best players at the World Cup as Portugal reached the semi-finals.

The Manchester United striker scored his first Copa Mundial goal – a penalty against Iran in the group stage – and generally overtook Luis Figo as his country enjoyed their best World Cup since 1966.

He became Portugal’s – and international football’s – leading scorer and defined his generation alongside Messi.

Alongside a host of club accolades, Ronaldo also led Portugal to European Championship and UEFA Nations League trophies. At 37, he will seek to lift the World Cup in Qatar.

Gianluigi Buffon

Buffon was 28 when he was part of Italy’s World Cup-winning XI, scoring just two goals as the Azzurri lifted the trophy in Berlin.

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

“As long as I have the arrogance or the assumption that I’m a good goalkeeper, I’ll keep going and find something exciting. If I don’t find anything exciting, I might just retire, because I I’ve more or less done everything now,” the 44-year-old said.

The goalkeeper now plays for Parma, the club where he started his career.

READ: Six brilliant keepers who simply couldn’t replace Buffon as Italy’s No.1

Theo Walcott

Yes, we know that Walcott didn’t play in Germany. But it’s worth remembering how controversial his inclusion in the England squad was.

“A few decisions were bad, like not taking five forwards,” wrote Steven Gerrard in his autobiography. “He certainly shouldn’t have brought Theo Walcott to Germany.

“Not only were England going into a tough World Cup campaign with just four forwards, but one of them was Theo Walcott.

“I almost fell over when I heard. Now let’s settle a thing or two about Theo. He’s a nice boy and one day he will become a very good player.

“But he had no right to be in Germany. Not at all. I was amazed to find him on the plane.

Remarkably still just 32, Walcott is currently on Southampton’s books in the Premier League and has made 12 appearances for the club this season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The 2006 World Cup will remain Ibrahimovic’s last after Sweden were knocked out of that year’s final by Poland.

It wasn’t the biggest success of the striker’s career either; Ibrahimovic failed to score against powerhouse Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago as the Swedes were knocked out by Germany in the round of 16.

The 24-year-old left Juventus for Inter Milan that summer and spent the rest of his career racking up goals and accolades at some of Europe’s top clubs.

READ: When teenage Zlatan failed QPR tryout… for telling coach to ‘f*ck off’

Luka Modric

Modric was a fresh-faced youngster 16 years ago, making two substitute appearances as Croatia retired in the first round.

The midfielder was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 2018 as Croatia upended their chances of reaching the final and will be central to their hopes of matching the feat in Qatar.

Along with that, the 36-year-old remains an integral part of the Real Madrid squad and put in a majestic performance in their recent Champions League win over Paris Saint Germain.

Franck Ribery

France took an experienced squad to Germany, with the likes of Lilian Thuram, Claude Makelele and Zinedine Zidane providing an experienced backbone to the 1998 world champions.

But they drew their first two matches and looked in danger of a humiliating early exit. Enter Ribery. The 23-year-old provided a vital injection of youth and scored in the round of 16 win over Spain. He started the final against Italy.

Ribéry ended up making 81 appearances for his country and winning everything worth winning with Bayern Munich. Now 39, the winger plays for Serie A basement dwellers Salernitana.

Lucas Podolski

Scoring three goals in Germany’s merry march to the semi-finals, Podolski was named FIFA’s Best Young Player of the 2006 World Cup.

The winger arguably never quite realized 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 ankle over the years. years, including during a three-year spell at Arsenal.

Now 36, Podolski now plays his football for Polish club Gornik Zabrze.

Joaquin

Of course, Joaquin played in 2006. In fact, the winger was present in the 2002 finals in South Korea and Japan – and is still going strong at 40.

He played only a small role in Germany, starting the dead rubber group game against Saudi Arabia as Spain made their traditional early exit.

Big moves like Real Madrid have been touted, but Joaquin has made a name for himself at Real Betis, returning to the club after spells at Valencia, Malaga and Fiorentina.


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