8 players from World Cup 2006 we can’t believe are still going in 2022

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring against Serbia & Montenegro in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, June 2006. Credit: Alamy
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring against Serbia & Montenegro in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, June 2006. Credit: Alamy

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

The defining images of the finals still burn brightly today; Graham Poll’s three yellow cards, Argentina holding their own Goal of the Tournament competition, the Battle of Nuremberg, Wayne Rooney getting sent off against Portugal and Zinedine Zidane’s iconic headbutt in the final.

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

Even much-hyped youngsters like Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres are no longer professional footballers. But a sturdy group of talented players remain active in the game and remain some of the world’s best.

We’ve identified eight current players that participated at Germany 2006 and how they’re getting on today.

Lionel Messi

Argentina were the great entertainers of the 2006 World Cup, becoming the neutral’s favourites with some spell-binding attacking football and generally looking like they were playing a different sport to England.

Their side was built around Juan Roman Riquelme and, with Hernan Crespo banging in the goals up front, Messi found himself on the bench – something that was considered controversial in Argentina.

An 18-year-old Messi scored during the 6-0 blitzing of Serbia & Montenegro and had a goal dubiously ruled out for offside during the last-16 victory over Mexico.

But manager Jose Pekerman’s decision not to call upon Messi during the quarter-final exit to Germany led to widespread criticism as it was clear, even then, that the Barcelona forward was a special talent.

Luckily, Messi has spent the rest of his career proving he is one of the best footballers ever to play the game – even at PSG.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s 2006 tournament 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 forward scored his first goal at the Copa Mundial – a penalty against Iran in the group stages – and generally outshone Luis Figo as his country enjoyed their best World Cup since 1966.

He’s gone to become Portugal’s – and international football’s – record goalscorer and has defined his generation alongside Messi.

Alongside a multitude of club honours, Ronaldo has also led Portugal to the European Championship and UEFA Nations League trophies. At 37, he’ll be looking to lift the World Cup in Qatar.

Gianluigi Buffon

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

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

“As long as I have the arrogance or the assumption that I am a good goalkeeper, I will carry on and find something exciting. If I don’t find anything exciting, I could well retire, because I’ve done more or less everything by now,” the 44-year-old said.

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

Gianluigi Buffon, Italy goalkeeper during a FIFA all-stars match against Italy, 16 December 1998 Credit: Alamy
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy goalkeeper during a FIFA all-stars match against Italy, 16 December 1998 Credit: Alamy

READ: Six brilliant keepers who just couldn’t displace Buffon as Italy No.1

Theo Walcott

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

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

“Not only were England embarking on an arduous World Cup campaign with only four forwards but one of them was Theo Walcott.

“I almost fell over when I heard. Now let’s get one or two things right about Theo. He’s a nice lad and one day he will mature into a very good player.

“But he had no right to be in Germany. None at all. I was gobsmacked to find him on the plane.”

Still only 33, remarkably, Walcott is currently on the books of Premier League side Southampton.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The 2006 World Cup will remain Ibrahimovic’s last after Sweden were eliminated from this year’s finals by Poland.

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

The 24-year-old moved from Juventus to Inter Milan that summer and has spent the rest of his career racking up goals and accolades at some of Europe’s best clubs.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

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

Luka Modric

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

The midfielder was awarded the Golden Ball in 2018 as Croatia upset the odds to reach the final and will be central to their hopes of matching the feat in Qatar.

Alongside this, the 37-year-old remains integral to the Real Madrid side and played a vital role in their latest Champions League triumph.

Lukas Podolski

Scoring three goals during Germany’s joyous march to the semi-finals, Podolski was named the best young player of the 2006 World Cup by FIFA.

The winger arguably never quite fulfilled 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 peg over the years – including during a three-year spell at Arsenal.

Now 37, Podolski now plays his football for Polish club Gornik Zabrze.

Joaquin

Of course Joaquin played in 2006. In fact, the winger was present at the 2002 finals in South Korea and Japan – and is still going strong at 41.

He only played a bit part in Germany, starting the dead-rubber group match against Saudi Arabia as Spain made their traditional early exit.

Big moves to the likes of Real Madrid were touted but Joaquin made a name for himself at Real Betis, returning to the club after spells at Valencia, Malaga and Fiorentina.

READ MORE: 15 bonkers moments from the 2006 World Cup: Zidane, Rooney, Poll…

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