The exuberance of youth is often associated with naivety, unfortunate errors and learning curves but some players relish being thrown in at the deep end. Wales forward Gareth Bale and England striker Wayne Rooney are two such examples, with the former having opened his international account with what would become a trademark free-kick less than three months after his 17th birthday. Rooney is the only one of the five youngest scorers in UEFA European Championship qualification history who is likely to figure at UEFA EURO 2016 – proving it is not all about a flying start.
Gareth Bale (17 years and 83 days)
Wales 1-5 Slovakia 07/10/2006
Gareth Bale's first international goal would prove a bittersweet affair. With Wales 2-0 down at home to Slovakia, Bale stepped up on 37 minutes to convert a perfectly placed free-kick, reduce the deficit and, with it, become Wales's youngest-ever scorer. However, an eventual 5-1 reverse left the Welsh UEFA EURO 2008 qualification bid in tatters after only two games.
The teenage Bale had just started to establish himself at Southampton FC when he broke into the national team under manager John Toshack. "We've got a real player," stand-in captain Craig Bellamy said of the future Real Madrid CF ace after his wonder strike. "A real force for the next 14, 15 years."
Levan Mchedlidze (17 years and 207 days)
Georgia 2-0 Scotland 17/10/2007
Levan Mchedlidze, son of FC Dinamo Tbilisi's 1981 European Cup Winners' Cup-winning goalkeeper Karlo Mchedlidze, moved to Italy aged 14 and was dubbed the 'Georgian Ibrahimović during his time at US Città di Palermo. Coincidentally, the now Empoli FC forward made his international debut against the Azzurri before getting on the scoresheet in his second game as Georgia beat Scotland 2-0.
"Right after the Scotland match I returned to Empoli and it seemed every football fan knew me," he told UEFA.com. "Thanks to this goal I also became known in my country. It was an unforgettable moment in my life."
Ben Sahar (17 years and 230 days)
Israel 4-0 Estonia 28/03/2007
Just 11 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute, Ben Sahar announced himself on the national-team stage with Israel's third goal in a comfortable victory over Estonia. The forward, on Chelsea FC's books at the time, raced onto Idan Tal's through ball and lifted it over an onrushing Mart Poom to open his account. A dream scenario got even better three minutes later when he strode onto a loose ball around the edge of the area and curled it with pace into the bottom right-hand corner.
"It was a dream come true," said Sahar afterwards. Israel coach Dror Kashtan added: "Sahar is certainly talented. I have been following his progress for several years and this is the reason he is getting his chance."
Wayne Rooney (17 years and 317 days)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 1-2 England 06/09/2003
Georgi Hristov struck first for the hosts but, with direct qualification for Portugal in their sights, England responded after half-time. Emile Heskey headed David Beckham's chipped pass into the path of Wayne Rooney who slotted it first time under Petar Milosevski from the edge of the box to equalise and become his country's youngest-ever marksman. "Everyone knows what Wayne can do," said Beckham, who converted a 63rd-minute penalty to ensure England left Skopje with three points. "He's a great player, a great lad. He's capable of great performances even at his age."
England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson also had his say on the Everton FC teenager. "The talent is there, the quality is there," he said. "Of course he has a lot to learn, but if things go to plan he can go very, very far. Wayne can score goals, he is a very strong player, so congratulations to him for becoming the youngest-ever England goalscorer."
Zoran Filipović (18 years and 92 days)
East Germany 1-2 Yugoslavia 09/05/1971
The former FK Crvena zvezda, Club Brugge KV, Sporting Clube de Portugal, SL Benfica and Boavista FC attacker remains the youngest player to have represented either Yugoslavia or Serbia. Filipović was 18 years and 92 days old when he made his bow in Leipzig in 1972 UEFA European Championship qualifying against East Germany. The forward needed just 11 minutes to make a name for himself and set Yugoslavia on their way to a 2-1 triumph.
"It was magic moment for me," he said. "I was so young. I have great memories of the match in Leipzig as it was something special." Filipović went on to coach Crvena zvezda and Montenegro after ending his playing days with two goals and 13 caps.
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