Advancing age and the rigours of sport rarely go hand-in-hand, but some players embrace the march of time better than most. Germany forward Miroslav Klose and England midfielder Frank Lampard are fine examples – they struck four times each en route to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and both will be 36 by the commencement of UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying. Inspired, UEFA.com profiles the five oldest scorers in UEFA European Championship qualification history – the men proving age is but a state of mind.
Jari Litmanen, Finland (39 years, 270 days)
Finland v San Marino, 2010
Former AFC Ajax, FC Barcelona and Liverpool FC playmaker Litmanen was approaching 40 when he scored on his international swansong in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying. Introduced at half-time to a hero's welcome, with Finland 1-0 up, Litmanen sparked a second-half ignition that led to their biggest win in a competitive international – an 8-0 dismantling of lowly San Marino. Hat-trick scorer Mikael Forssell was the star, but the classy No10 got in on the act himself, whipping a penalty into the bottom-left corner to mark his 137th appearance with a 32nd goal – both record-setting figures.
Twice a UEFA Champions League finalist – victorious in 1995 – Litmanen was as well-decorated as he was well-travelled: he capped a career spanning 24 years and six countries with his first Finnish league crown as recently as 2011.
John Aldridge, Republic of Ireland (37 years, 23 days)
Republic of Ireland v Latvia, 1995
Ex-Liverpool striker Aldridge notched 19 goals in the emerald green, the last pair coming in a 2-1 victory at the old Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin in October 1995. Aldridge converted a penalty on the hour and doubled the Republic's advantage three minutes later when he met Steve Staunton's free-kick to flash an unstoppable header past Latvia keeper Olegs Karavajevs. Ireland finished second in their EURO '96 qualifying group, but lost a play-off 2-0 to the Netherlands in Jack Charlton's last game as manager.
Aldridge, who earned English First Division and FA Cup winners' medals with Liverpool and made nearly 700 league outings, ended his playing days in 1998 after seven years with Tranmere Rovers FC, a team he later guided to the English League Cup final as manager.
Krasimir Balakov, Bulgaria (36 years, 201 days)
Bulgaria v Andorra, 2002
An influential captain and one of Bulgaria's greatest ever playmakers, the ageing Balakov wrote himself into the EURO record books with a trademark effort. The set-piece specialist curled a superb 25m free-kick into the top-right corner as Bulgaria make a flying start to UEFA EURO 2004 qualification with a 2-1 defeat of Andorra. It was Balakov's 16th goal for Bulgaria, and ultimately his last in 92 matches for the country – a cap tally that puts him fourth in Bulgaria's all-time appearances list. A star during eight years at VfB Stuttgart and a key member of the Bulgaria side that shone at the 1994 World Cup, Balakov was last in employment as coach of 1. FC Kaiserslautern in 2012.
Rainer Rauffmann, Cyprus (36 years, 31 days)
Cyprus v Israel, 2003
Cyprus's German-born forward Rauffmann needed only a minute after coming on as substitute to find an equalising goal and put paid to Israel's chances of qualifying for UEFA EURO 2004. Cyprus had been trailing Omri Afek's early effort until the AC Omonia front man entered the pitch on the hour and rose to meet Giorgos Theodotou's cross with his first touch of the ball. However, with age comes perspective and the veteran, who registered a remarkable 286 goals in 378 games for Omonia between 1997 and 2004, was not overly enthused by his feat: "I was lucky enough to equalise. The goal didn't matter to me – all I want is to help the team."
Mario Frick, Liechtenstein (36 years old)
Scotland v Liechtenstein, 2010
Frick celebrated his birthday with this goal against Scotland, and though Liechtenstein eventually succumbed 2-1 by way of a 96th-minute Scottish winner, this was a fine personal moment for the evergreen Frick in the UEFA EURO 2012 preliminaries. Collecting Nicolas Hasler's long ball, Frick bent his shot around marker Stephen McManus and beyond Allan McGregor into the top-right corner. The strike came 17 years after his debut, and the forward went on to top his country's scoring and appearance charts.
Today a player-coach at FC Balzers, the club that launched his career, Frick was named Liechtenstein's 2013 coach of the year. He is yet to retire from national-team duty, however, and if he stays injury-free it is conceivable a 40-year-old Frick could represent his nation in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2016 in France.
*Statistics accurate at the start of UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying
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