World Cup Countdown: 3 Weeks to Go – Ranking the Best ‘Golden Generations’ at the 2006 Tournament

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Every national team has one period where they can truly say they have a ‘Golden Generation’ of talent on their hands. Some are perhaps yet to witness theirs, while some are probably lusting over the memories of theirs playing from many years ago. 

However, what is particularly strange about the 2006 World Cup in this instance is that a shedload of nations were all arguably witnessing their ‘Golden Generation’ going toe-to-toe with each other in Germany. It could be justified that all of England, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, France, Spain, Germany and even Holland perhaps were all witnessing their crème de la crème. 

Now, the hard part is this. Let’s attempt to rank these so called ‘Golden Generations’ in order of how good they really were…

8. Netherlands

Biggest Names in the SquadEdwin van der Sar, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie

The Oranje side of 2006 only made it to the Round of 16 in Germany, despite boasting a handful of top class players. Admittedly, they only narrowly lost out to a quality Portugal side, but perhaps more was expected of them. 

When a nation that has been blessed with the talents of Frank de Boer, Johan Cruyff, Patrick Kluivert and many more, it is difficult to argue that the crop of 2006 was Holland’s ‘Golden Generation’. Whilst it was a team containing stunning individual talent, it comes nowhere near to Netherlands’ sides of yesteryear; for that, they are ranked last in this particular list. 

7. Germany 

Biggest Names in the Squad: Jens Lehmann, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm

Now, this is a hard one to call. Germany have, in the last few decades, been an outstanding international team with a cast iron determination to succeed in efficient fashion. 

The likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaus and so on have to be mentioned in a debate regarding Germany’s golden generations of talent. Even though the class of 2006 finished in third place at the World Cup in their home nation, the majority of them were reaching the end of their peak and making way for emerging talent in the background. 

That, and their lack of silverware, mean that the class of 2006 can’t really be considered as the nation’s ‘Golden Generation’, although they were still pretty good. 

 6. Portugal

Biggest Names in the Squad: Luis Figo, Pauleta, Ricardo Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco

This Portugal side had some serious players. Luis Figo, Deco, Cristiano Ronaldo; the talent within their ranks was unfathomable. Unfortunately, they too didn’t really win the silverware to justify the huge ability within their ranks, but it can still be considered as the country’s ‘Golden Generation’ in all honesty. 

In all of Portugal’s history, you won’t find a crop of players that come close to the aforementioned bunch. In that respect, the side competing at the 2006 World Cup can be named as their ‘Golden Generation’, whilst the recent European Championships victory could be deemed as that generation finally coming to fruition in terms of silverware. 

5. England

Biggest Names in the Squad: David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, John Terry, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney

Just look at some of those names. How on earth the Three Lions never won anything with that crop of players is quite unbelievable, and just makes the nation’s failings all the more painful. 

Without a doubt, that was England’s golden generation. For whatever reason, silverware or even advancing to the latter stages of a tournament was always beyond them, but there’s no excuses in terms of players at their disposal. 

4. Spain

Biggest Names in the Squad: Iker Casillas, Carlos Puyol, Raul, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, David Villa

This crop of Spaniards can easily be considered as the nation’s golden generation. Whilst any sort of success in Germany back in 2006 was beyond them, the same group of players were merely in their infancy in terms of reaching their peak as a team on the international scene. 

Incidentally, that can be justified by the fact that the same crop went on to win EURO 2008, World Cup 2010 and EURO 2012; the class of 2006 was the early years of the golden generation, just very few knew it at the time.

 3. Brazil

Biggest Names in the Squad: Cafu, Lucio, Roberto Carlos, Adriano, Kaka, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho

My personal favourite group of players in my footballing lifetime. The likes of Kaka, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho inspired millions with their innovative way of playing the game as well as their flamboyant, care free attitude with a ball at their feet. 

They come third on this list, mainly because of the previous success of the national team with the likes of Pele and Jairzinho within the ranks, but this group from 2006 come very, very close to them; it has to be said, however, that football has changed immeasurably since back then, so the two sides are difficult to compare. 

2. France

Biggest Names in the Squad: Eric Abidal, Patrick Vieira, William Gallas, Claude Makelele, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram, Fabian Barthez, David Trezeguet, Franck Ribery

Zidane, Henry, Vieira, Makelele, and so on; this was France’s golden generation by some distance, a side littered with legends. 

Their crushing defeat to Italy on penalties at the tournament in question has somewhat blotted Les Bleus’ copybook slightly in terms of their ranking on this list, but the ability at their disposal cannot be questioned. 

Who knows what could’ve been if Zidane just kept his head to himself…

1. Italy

Biggest Names in the Squad: Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluca Zambrotta, Andrea Pirlo, Marco Materrazzi 

The winners of the 2006 World Cup, and a squad absolutely packed to the rafters with talent that will go down in history. Just take a look at some of those names above and tell me that they cannot be considered as Italy’s golden generation of talent by some distance. 

After recently failing to even qualify for this summer’s tournament, the nation of Italy could have worse ideas that just watch a few repeats of the 2006 edition instead…

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