Italy's Alberto Gilardino was named Golden Player in 2004.
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Born on 5 July 1982, the same day that Paolo Rossi scored a famous hat-trick as Italy defeated Brazil 3-2 in the FIFA World Cup finals, Alberto Gilardino was similarly inspirational as the Azzurrini won the UEFA European Under-21 Championship for a fifth time in 2004.
Gilardino would only score once in the group stage as Claudio Gentile's side recovered from losing their opening match to Belarus to qualify for the semi-finals as Group A winners, but came into his own as Portugal were blown away in the last four. Then of Parma FC, he scored the first goal and swiftly made the second for Giampiero Pinzi before capping a 3-1 victory with Italy's third near the end. Gilardino underlined his billing as a natural born goalscorer in the final in Bochum, completing a 3-0 victory by clipping the ball past the Serbia and Montenegro goalkeeper in the 84th minute and rolling it over the line to cue ecstatic on-field celebrations.
Gentile's team would go on to claim an Olympic bronze medal before Gilardino stepped up to the senior side for a World Cup qualifier against Norway in September 2004. A second successive 23-goal season for Parma prompted AC Milan to pay €24m for his services the following summer and he went on to play two games for his country, scoring one goal, in their successful 2006 World Cup campaign. Gilardino was then overlooked for UEFA EURO 2008™, prompting a move to ACF Fiorentina where he rejoined his mentor from his Parma days, Cesare Prandelli.