Absentees cast a shadow
Two years have elapsed since Germany 2006 and in that time a fresh batch of rising European stars have come to the fore. And while many of them will be displaying their wares at UEFA Euro 2008, some of the most distinguished members of the continent's old guard will be missing from the big event.
With the show in Austria and Switzerland just about to begin, FIFA.com takes a look at the household names and national institutions who will be conspicuous by their absence, some of them unluckily so after enjoying exceptional seasons with their clubs.
If Italy are to follow up their 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany triumph by conquering Europe, then they will have to do it without several decorated veterans. While Alessandro del Piero did more than enough to book his place in coach Roberto Donadoni's party, his former Juventus team-mate Filippo Inzaghi missed out, despite ending the season with a bang. Goalless until matchday 24 in Serie A, the evergreen AC Milan striker came back with a vengeance, hitting the back of the net 11 times in the last 14 games of the season.
It will have come as no consolation to Superpippo to learn that he was not the only Italian world champion to miss the boat. Massimo Oddo and Vincenzo Iaquinta have fallen out of favour with Donadoni, while Alessandro Nesta and Francesco Totti both refused to come out of international retirement, not that the injured Roman general would have been able to make the trip anyway.
Another Azzurri giant stranded on the sidelines is inspirational captain Fabio Cannavaro. After picking up a serious injury in training at the start of the week, the Real Madrid man will have to watch his compatriots for the stands. But, ever the consummate professional, Cannavaro has taken the setback in his stride.
"I'm looking upon this injury as a challenge," he said after his absence from the tournament was announced. "My only aim now is to get back to full fitness as quickly as possible. I had planned to retire after the EURO but I'm setting my sights on making the 2010 World Cup now."
Trezeguet and Raul surplus to requirements
Among Italy's rivals in Group C are the French, who have quite an absentee list of their own. Linchpins in the French youth set-up under Raymond Domenech, Djibril Cisse and Mickael Landreau have both been omitted from the coach's 23-man squad, while David Trezeguet had his worst fears confirmed when he too was left out. The scorer of a memorable golden goal in the 2000 final, Trezeguet's 20-goal haul in Serie A this season and an impressive record of 34 goals in 71 appearances with Les Bleus were not enough to twist Domenech's arm.
"As I've already said, it was a tactical decision, purely football-related," explained the France boss. "We've got four or five centre-forwards and you can't have lots of people for one position. You have to make decisions."
A similar scenario has been played out on the other side the Pyrenees, where a national campaign for Raul's inclusion in the Spain squad failed to make any impression on the implacable Luis Aragones. The revitalised striker is his country's top scorer with 44 goals and also had a big hand in Real Madrid's 31st title, chipping in with a total of 18 strikes. But despite those impressive stats, the veteran coach remained unmoved.
"I did hold out some hope that I'd make the squad but
it just wasn't to be," lamented Raul. "I'm not
turning my back on the national team, though, and I never will.
Playing for Spain is an honour and if I ever get selected again,
then I will definitely accept the invitation."
One man who did turn down a seat on the plane to Austria and Switzerland was Barcelona's latest jewel in the crown, Bojan Krkic. After two hectic seasons in the spotlight, the 18 year old told Aragones he did not feel ready for such a physically demanding tournament and is taking a well-earned rest instead.
There has also been a changing of the guard over the border in Portugal, with three of the country's most gifted performers of all time opting out of the chance to win some long-awaited international silverware. Midfield schemer Rui Costa hung up his boots a few weeks ago, and while penalty-box poacher Pedro Miguel Pauleta and the peerless Luis Figo are set to continue their club careers at the age of 35, both have played their last games for the Seleccao das Quinas. The 2004 runners-up are now banking on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Ricardo Quaresma to go one step further this year.
Tired legs and tactical decisions
Germany 2006 proved to be the swansong for another old-timer, Czech Republic's Pavel Nedved. The 2003 Ballon d'Or winner resisted calls to return to the national side, and with creative fulcrum Tomas Rosicky picking up a serious injury with Arsenal at the end of the season, coach Karel Bruckner has been left with a midfield conundrum.
Dutch duo Clarence Seedorf and Mark van Bommel are two more seasoned campaigners who will be absent from our television screens this summer. The tireless midfielders have not seen eye to eye with national supremo Marco van Basten for some time now and have refused to turn out on Oranje duty while the former AC Milan and Netherlands legend remains in charge. Twenty years on from scoring the immaculate volley that won the Dutch their only European title to date, Van Basten will surely miss their drive and experience in the middle of the pitch.
Turkey supremo Fatih Terim has taken some drastic action in a bid to boost his side's challenge by leaving out stalwarts Yıldıray Basturk, Halil Altintop and the ageless Galatasaray forward Hakan Sukur - an ever-present since Euro 96.
"Basturk and Altintop have been important members of the team for a long time and they will continue to be so," commented Terim. "But I've got a specific system in my head and, unfortunately, they're not part of it."
There are some other well-known European names who have an entirely different reason for missing out on this summer's jamboree, having failed to help their teams qualify in the first place. And there was no bigger surprise in the qualification race than England's failure to progress. All of which has left David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard with no option but to switch on their TV sets this June and think about what might have been.