While there is much to be said for the fearless enthusiasm of youth, experience can be an even more precious commodity at major tournaments. Players who have learnt a long list of lessons and dealt with big-match pressure countless times are a valuable asset to any team, and there will be many bringing their knowledge and composure to bear at UEFA EURO 2012.
No fewer than 12 of the men travelling to Poland and Ukraine boast over 100 caps, in fact, with Spain's Iker Casillas top of the class thanks to his 130 appearances for the world and European champions. The Real Madrid CF goalkeeper made his debut against Sweden 12 years ago today and set a new record on Wednesday when he celebrated an unprecedented 95th international win in the 4-1 defeat of Korea Republic. Aged 31, 'San Iker' (Saint Iker) will now be hoping to help La Roja become the first side to win three consecutive major international tournaments – as will team-mate Xavi Hernández, who has amassed 108 caps since collecting his first 12 years ago.
Sweden, the Republic of Ireland and Ukraine can also lay claim to a pair of centurions in their squads, with the Blågult's Anders Svensson second on the list behind Casillas with 126 caps and joined by centre-back Olof Mellberg (113). While Svensson will be appearing in his third UEFA European Championship and Mellberg in his fourth, the tournament nonetheless represents a step into the unknown for Ireland duo Shay Given (121) and Robbie Keane (116) as well as Ukraine pair Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (116) and Andriy Shevchenko (107).
In Giorgos Karagounis' case, meanwhile, his 117 caps include some memorable outings at UEFA EURO 2004, but although he scored the tournament's first goal that summer, he was suspended for the final victory against hosts Portugal – Greek football's crowning glory. Miroslav Klose (116) knows all about final disappointment too, having finished on the losing side to Spain in the UEFA EURO 2008 decider in Vienna, while Gianluigi Buffon (114) – triumphant, of course, at the 2006 FIFA World Cup – has never advanced beyond the quarter-finals at this level.
Completing the list, Dennis Rommedahl (116) is returning to the competition he last graced eight years ago, having missed out on UEFA EURO 2008. All the centurions have been awarded a special new commemorative cap and medal by UEFA for reaching the 100-match milestone, and their number could be set to swell during UEFA EURO 2012, with five players within six games of hitting treble figures.
Germany forward Lukas Podolski is closest on 97 caps, followed by Ireland's Damien Duff and Netherlands midfielder Rafael van der Vaart on 96. Spain's Xabi Alonso and Croatia centre-back Josip Šimunić could all reach their centuries in the semi-finals, while England left-back Ashley Cole will need to be an ever-present on a run to the 1 July showpiece in Kyiv to reach the magical figure.
Most experienced players at UEFA EURO 2012:
Iker Casillas (Spain, 130 caps)
Anders Svensson (Sweden, 126)
Shay Given (Republic of Ireland, 121)
Giorgos Karagounis (Greece, 117)
Miroslav Klose (Germany, 116)
Robbie Keane (Ireland, 116)
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Ukraine, 116)
Dennis Rommedahl (Denmark, 116)
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy, 114)
Olof Mellberg (Sweden, 113)
Xavi Hernández (Spain, 108)
Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine, 107)
Lukas Podolski (Germany, 97)
Damien Duff (Ireland, 96)
Rafael van der Vaart (Netherlands, 96)
Xabi Alonso (Spain, 95)
Josip Šimunić (Croatia, 95)
Ashley Cole (England, 94)
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