As we continue our build-up for the upcoming UEFA EURO 2012 finals in Poland & Ukraine, we take a break from previewing the teams taking part in the competition and at the top ten best players never to play at the European Championships.
10. Paolo Rossi (Italy)
The widely publicised Totenero match-fixing scandal of 1980 meant Rossi was hit with a two-year (down from three) suspension in the prime of his career. He made a resounding comeback, leading Italy to World Cup glory in 1982, but the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for France 1984 meant Rossi never graced a European Championship.
9. Matt Le Tissier (England)
Le Tiss’s pitifully low count of eight international caps is considered by many as one of the gravest injustices in England football. One of the most entertaining and naturally talented players of his generation, his absence from the national setup was especially foolish considering his incredible penalty taking ability, converting 47 of 48 career attempts.
8. Jari Litmanen (Finland)
The first Finnish footballing superstar, Jari Litmanen still plays club football at 40, for Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi (or HJK Helsinki), remains vice-captain of his country and is the only footballer to have played international matches in four different decades. He will be 45 by the time UEFA EURO 2016 rolls around.
7. Zbigniew Boniek (Poland)
A Polish footballing maestro known for electric pace and deft technique, Boneik guided his national team to a staggeringly impressive third place in the 1982 FIFA World Cup. But he and his talented ‘white and red’ teammates could not repeat the same level of success at European Championships. Poland first qualified for the tournament in 2008.
6. George Best (Northern Ireland)
An automatic international choice when fit, Best was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals from 1964 to 1977. The Irish Football Association recently described him as the “greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland”, but his trailblazing displays were never enough to secure major-tournament football.
5. Ian Rush (Wales)
One of the greatest strikers of the ’80s and ’90s, Wales inability to qualify for the a major tournament meant Rush never showcased his prolific goalscoring ability or his moustache on the biggest international stage. He did score the winner in a memorbale UEFA EURO 1992 qualifying victory over Germany and is Wales’s record goal-getter, with 28 in 73 games.
4. Alfredo Di Stéfano (Spain)
Despite being regarded as one of the greats, Di Stéfano’s international career makes for distressing reading. Unluckily missing out on World Cups for Argentina, Di Stéfano gained citizenship for Spain, hoping for a chance in fortune. But when Spain failed to qualify for UEFA EURO 1968 and injury kept him out of the subsequent World Cup, he hung up his underused international boots.
3. Eusébio (Portugal)
He almost single-handedly took Portuguese national team to the World Cup semi-finals in 1966 (and won the Golden Bott while he was at it), but the great Eusébio could never replicate the same success in Europe, despite many worthy qualifying attempts between 1962 and 1972. Scored 41 goals in 64 international matches.
2. David Ginola (France)
As common a feature of football as any is that of the French national side squabbling. Unfortunately, as in Ginola’s case, these fractions all too often result in the omission of some of their finest talent. After a falling out Gerard Houllier over France’s failure to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the French wizard saw his international career come to a premature end.
1. Ryan Giggs (Wales)
Captain of England schoolboys, Giggs didn’t qualify for the full team because of Welsh grandparents and the fact he was born in Cardiff. Though still an inspirational fugue on the pitch for one of the world’s leading clubs, it’s unrealistic, to say the least, that English football’s most decorated player will reverse his international retirement for UEFA EURO 2016.