There is no going back now; the final squads for Euro 2012 have been confirmed. And among the 16 nations competing in Poland and Ukraine, Germany has the most youthful squad, and Republic of Ireland the oldest. Of the 276 players participating, Dutchman Jetro Willems, who only turned 18 in March, is the youngest. At 38, Greece's veteran goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias is the oldest.
At an average age of just 24.52 years, Germany's squad is its youngest-ever for a European Championship. The current team is more youthful even than it was at the 2010 World Cup, then an average of 25.0. Though many players from the previous tournament have been retained, the removal of Hans-Jorg Butt, Arne Friedrich and Cacau, coupled with the introduction of youngsters like Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle and Ilkay Gundogan, has driven down the squad's average age.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Republic of Ireland has the squad with the highest average age, just older than Russia and Sweden. At 36, goalkeeper Shay Given is the second-oldest player at the tournament, and the likes of Damien Duff, David Forde, Richard Dunne, Keith Andrews, and captain Robbie Keane are all entering the latter stages of their careers.
England had the oldest squad among all teams at the 2010 World Cup, but the introduction of a new generation of talent has seen its average age decrease by more than two years, to 26.57. And even though Jack Wilshere misses out due to injury, the Three Lions boast the tournament's second-youngest talent, the 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The award for youngest player at Euro 2012 goes to Willems, who one year ago won the U17 European Championship with Netherlands. The left back was somewhat of a surprise call-up, but having made 20 Eredivisie appearances for PSV last season, he earned Bert van Marwijk's confidence. And given an injury to Erik Pieters, Willems could find himself in the starting lineup against Denmark on June 9.
As a team, Greece is close to the middle of the age spectrum, but Chalkias, who began his professional career in 1994, is the definition of veteran. The giant goalkeeper has only 30 caps to his name since debuting for the national team in 2001, but should he feature, will at 38 be the oldest footballer to set foot on the pitch at Euro 2012.
For some teams, the stars of the future have already arrived in their current squads. For others, a generation is nearing its end. Some say that there is no substitute for experience, but others insist that the young and bold are often the best. We will soon see which mentality proves to be correct.
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