The countdown to UEFA Euro 2016 has already begun as only four days are left before the 15th edition of the UEFA European Championship gets underway in France. Every major tournament marks the beginning and end of careers and over the years the Euros has seen the careers of many footballers begin, blossom and end.
Euro 2016 will definitely be a tightly contested competition but on the same time there are a couple of footballers who might have their last outing at a major tournament. Here are five such players who might play their final major tournament at Euro 2016.
#1 Gianluigi Buffon – Italy
The 38-year-old custodian has established himself as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all-time. He is currently Italy’s all-time leader in appearances and perhaps the best goalkeeper to have ever played for the Azzurri. He played a pivotal role in Italy’s victorious 2006 FIFA World Cup campaign where he conceded only two goals: an own goal and a penalty kick. He was subsequently awarded the Yashin award as the best goalkeeper of the tournament.
Buffon has been in good form for both Juventus and Italy in recent times and his form will be crucial for Italy as they have been handed a difficult group consisting of Belgium, Sweden and Republic of Ireland. This could also be the last tournament for Buffon as being 38, he is already at the twilight of his career and would also like to prolong his club career with Juventus. However, given his current form, you never know.
#2 Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the greatest footballers in the world right now and perhaps Sweden’s greatest player of all-time. The 35-year-old has been in sublime form over the past couple of years with PSG. This season, he was at his prolific best for PSG as he scored 50 goals across all competitions, helping the Parc des Princes outfit to a treble of the league, the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue.
Ibrahimovic has also been in good touch with Sweden as he scored 11 goals during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign including three goals in the two-legged playoff against neighbours and arch-rivals Denmark. Sweden will be banking on Ibra’s goal scoring ability to take them through a very difficult group in Euro 2016 which consists of powerhouses Belgium and Italy.
Euro 2016 will most likely be Ibra’s last shot to make an impact on a major tournament with Sweden as the Blagult have been drawn in the toughest group of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers which includes the likes of France and Netherlands. Hence, it seems likely that Sweden could fail to qualify for the World Cup for a third successive time and by the time Euro 2020 is around the corner, Ibra will be 39 and might not be in the best of shape but who knows what might happen.
#3 Iker Casillas – Spain
Spain’s captain Iker Casillas is considered to be one of the greatest exponents of goalkeeping in recent times and he completely deserves to be held in such high regards. Casillas, who has been in the Spanish team for 16 years now has played a pivotal role in their period of dominance from 2008-12 when Spain won Euro 2008, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2012. Casillas was in superb form in all three tournaments where he conceded a total of 6 goals and was named in the Team of the Tournament of all the three competitions.
However, in the past couple of years, Casillas hasn’t been in the form he was 5-6 years ago. He was shaky at the 2014 World Cup where he made quite a number of mistakes which resulted in Spain’s elimination in the group stages. Besides, the emergence of David de Gea as a world class goalkeeper has left Casillas with no choice but to prove his worth in Euro 2016. If Casillas does a repeat of the 2014 World Cup then it could be the end of an illustrious international career of one of the greatest goalkeepers of all-time.
#4 Tomas Rosicky – Czech Republic
The 35-year-old Arsenal midfielder has been one of the best players of Czech Republic in recent times. However, the past couple of years haven’t been very good for the Little Mozart as injuries have prevented him from displaying his full potential both with Arsenal and Czech Republic.
This season saw Rosicky sidelined due to knee and thigh injuries although he recently returned to the national team and scored in a 2-1 friendly win over Russia a few days back. Given Rosicky’s lack of playing time at club level, his international future is at stake. The least Rosicky can hope for at Euro 2016 would be avoiding any kind of injury like he did in Euro 2012. With age not being on his side as well, Euro 2016 could well be the last we would see of the Czech Republic captain at a major championship.
#5. Ricardo Carvalho – Portugal
The 38-year-old Monaco centre-back who formerly played for Chelsea and Real Madrid was one of Europe’s best defenders in his prime. Carvalho has also made significant contributions for the Portuguese national team and was a key player in the teams that reached the final in Euro 2004 and the semi-finals in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He was named in the Team of the Tournament at both the tournaments.
Carvalho had initially retired from the national team in 2011 but was lured out of retirement in 2014 by the newly appointed manager Fernando Santos after Portugal’s disastrous start to the Euro 2016 qualifiers. He once again became the defensive mainstay for Portugal and the side conceded only four goals in the next seven matches. Carvalho’s experience makes him a very crucial player for Portugal at Euro 2016 and being 38 already, Carvalho would be looking forward to end his Portugal career on a high.