Cristiano Ronaldo's goal for Portugal in their
semi-final victory over the Netherlands highlighted the remarkable success of
young players at Euro 2004. The 19-year-old winger lit up the tournament with
his nimble footwork and two goals, including the neat header that set Portugal
on their way to a 2-1 triumph over the Dutch on Wednesday. England striker Wayne
Rooney started the youthful revolution with four goals in two matches to inspire
his team to reach the quarter-finals.
Rooney became the youngest scorer at a European
Championship when he headed England's opener against Switzerland.
By the time he burst clear of the Croatia
defence and coolly slipped the ball into the net he was even being compared with
Brazilian great Pele by his own coach.
But Rooney lost his place in the record books
during the Croatia game when Switzerland striker Johann Vonlanthen, three months
younger than him, scored in their final Group B match against France that was
being played at the same time.
Another young player to make a big impression on
the tournament was 20-year-old Dutch winger Arjen Robben, whose inclusion
galvanised the side after a disappointing opening performance against Germany.
Robben showed great pace and trickery down the
flanks against the Czech Republic before his controversial substitution
contributed to the Dutch throwing away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2.
Robben retained his place in the starting lineup
against Latvia and Sweden, and showed nerves of steel to score the decisive
penalty that knocked out the Swedes in a quarter-final shootout.
Another younger player to spring to prominence
is Greece striker Angelos Haristeas, whose perfectly judged header knocked out
champions France in the quarter-finals.
Making a mockery of those who predicted he would
be jaded after a long season in which he helped Werder Bremen win the German
double, the 24-year-old outshone more experienced team mates to become coach
Otto Rehhagel's first choice.
Haristeas could yet line up opposite Ronaldo in
the final on Sunday when the Portuguese winger will have the chance to crown his
dazzling tournament with a winners' medal.