Sports Gazette

The sports magazine brought to you by the next generation of sport writers

The Last Dance: Modric, Ronaldo, and Kroos amongst stars bowing out from the Euros

The European Championships are one of football’s greatest stages – one shared by young talents hoping to announce themselves as the next best thing and stars in the twilight of their career.

While excitement builds around the next generation – headlined by Jude Bellingham, Jamal Musiala, and Florian Wirtz – ahead of Euro 2024, the Sports Gazette looks at some of those bidding farewell to the competition and the legacies they leave behind.

Graphic showing the following players in action from left to right: Modric in a Croatian kit, Ronaldo in a Portuguese strip, Kroos in a Germany strip
Image Credit: Fanny Schertzer (Left and centre image), Joern Fehrmann (Right image) remixed under Creative Commons 3.0 License

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo scarcely gives the impression that he is content for his historic career to reach its end.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has registered the most appearances (207) and goals scored (130) at international level in the men’s game, but he seems to have his sights set on increasing those record totals further.

When he was approaching the 200 mark, Ronaldo was quizzed on his ambitions by manager Roberto Martinez.

“I said [to Ronaldo] is 200 caps something that interests you or not? He said, ‘250 interests me,'” the former Belgium manager said.

Embed from Getty Images

Martinez looks on from the sidelines as Ronaldo surveys the field

Despite Ronaldo’s unrelenting ambition, it is hard to escape the feeling that his sixth European Championships will also be his last.

He would be 43 years old in 2028 and doubt has already been cast about his place in Portugal’s plans.

At the 2022 World Cup, he was benched for both knockout games as former manager Fernando Santos opted for the youth of Gonçalo Ramos instead.

A brace against Republic of Ireland on Tuesday, including a stunning left-footed strike, showed his enduring quality but Ronaldo’s overall impact has been questioned in recent years, particularly during his unhappy reunion with Manchester United.

If this is his swan song, then he will depart as one of the competition’s most decorated players. Ronaldo has made more appearances than any other player in tournament history (25), has won the most games (12), and scored the most goals (14) – five more than second-placed Michel Platini.

With all his experience, few players know the ecstasy and heartbreak of the Euros better.

A 19-year-old Ronaldo tasted bitter defeat during his debut campaign in 2004 as Portugal’s golden generation, playing on home soil, fell short against Greece in the final.

But sweet redemption came in 2016 when Portugal upset France in an emotionally charged final, which saw a teary Ronaldo stretchered off on 25 minutes.

Embed from Getty Images

The long wait comes to an end

His international honours list was extended in 2019 when he captained Portugal to victory in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, but disappointing outings at Euro 2020 and the World Cup in 2022 will have stoked the fire ahead of this campaign.

Portugal face Czechia, Türkiye, and Georgia in Group F and rank amongst the favourites for the tournament.

Ronaldo may not want this to be his last dance, but that is not his decision alone.

With arguably the most promising Portuguese side of his career alongside him there is no better time to face the music.

Luka Modrić

 Some players dazzle under international football’s bright lights while others impress in club football’s more stable environment. Luka Modrić has no trouble doing both.

The Croatian midfielder, who turns 39 in September, claimed his sixth Champions League with Real Madrid in June and now turns his attention to a fifth European Championship campaign with his country.

Embed from Getty Images

Both Modrić and Kroos now need two hands to count their Champions League triumphs

A 22-year-old Modrić debuted on the Euros scene in 2008, netting the decisive goal in a 1-0 win over Austria. It set the tone for a breakout campaign in which he earned a spot in the team of the tournament despite a quarter-final exit against Türkiye.

Modrić, then of Tottenham, would compete in the 2012, 2016, and 2020 editions too, tallying 13 appearances, the most of any Croatian player.

He assumed the captaincy after Darjo Srna’s retirement in August 2016 and has worn the armband with distinction since.

Modrić was named player of the tournament as he led Croatia to a World Cup final in 2018, his first major tournament as captain.

Despite falling 4-2 to a France side enlivened by a teenage Kylian Mbappé, the Croatian’s stellar campaign was untainted. Later that year, he became the first player not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to win a Ballon d’Or since 2007.

Embed from Getty Images

Since 2007, when Kaka won, Ronaldo and Messi had dominated the award

His leadership was vital as Croatia made another foray into the later stages of the tournament in 2022, claiming bronze after a 3-0 semi-final loss to the eventual champions: Messi and Argentina.

Modrić may have defined Croatia’s greatest era on the global stage but there are hurdles he is yet to overcome in Europe.

Embed from Getty Images

The midfielder has not returned to the quarter-final stage since his debut campaign.

The expansion of the tournament in 2016 and consequent emergence of the round-of-16 stage is one factor, with Croatia eliminated at this stage in both 2016 and 2021, but their successes at the World Cup have left a feeling of unrealised potential on the continental level.

Lukita, as the Madrid fans call him, will be 42 years old when the competition lands in the British Isles in 2028 – the oldest player at this tournament is 41-year-old Pepé.

He is also set to accept a more secondary role with Real Madrid next season, signalling a new chapter in a storied career.

The signs point to this being his final Euros, but there is always the possibility that Modrić continues to defy his age.

“You never know with this guy,” compatriot Josko Gvardiol has said.

He will hope to break new ground as he ponders bowing out from the Euros.

That will be no small feat with Spain, Italy, and Albania to contend with in Group B. But with a touch of Modrić magic, anything is possible.

Toni Kroos

Toni Kroos is charting familiar ground as he bids farewell to international football and European Championship competition.

The metronomic German midfielder said goodbye to Die Mannschaft after their 2-0 loss to England in the round-of-16 at Euro 2020 (played in 2021) but has returned for one last hurrah as he closes the curtain on an illustrious playing career.

Embed from Getty Images

Kroos and a crestfallen Germany after their elimination

Kroos announced his return to international football in February 2024 after conversations with manager Julian Nagelsmann, who wanted to restore the now six-time Champions League winner to the heart of Germany’s midfield.

Within seven seconds of his return on March 23, it was not difficult to see why. Some players may have been overawed by the occasion of a grand return or the opponent – World Cup finalists and perennial Euros favourites France – but Kroos is not just some player.

The World Cup winner took the ball from kick-off, taking one dribble back towards his goal before feinting and turning to place Germany’s onrushing attackers in his scope. A clipped ball found Florian Wirtz on three seconds and the Leverkusen starlet’s rocketed effort had crashed into the French net by the seventh.

Two months on from the 2-0 win, Kroos would make an emphatic statement of another variety. The 34-year-old announced that the current season would be his last in professional football, saying that his “ambition was always to finish my career at the peak of my performance level” in a statement posted to Instagram.

He signed off from Real Madrid in style 11 days later, starting in midfield as Los Blancos defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-0 to claim a record fifteenth Champions League title.

Embed from Getty Images

Kroos made another iconic walk to the subs bench with the game sealed in the 86th minute

Kroos will now be hoping for a similar fairytale finish to his international career as Germany chase a fourth men’s European Championship on home soil.

His legacy is secure, having contributed two goals and three assists while featuring in all seven games on Germany’s road to World Cup glory in 2014, but he is yet to truly make his mark on the Euros.

Kroos’ Adidas Adipures have graced the turf of three World Cups and three European Championships (2012, 2016, and 2021).

Embed from Getty Images

Having never gone beyond the semi-finals, though, he is yet to register an iconic moment at the Euros to match his catalogue from continental finals at club level.

Germany kick off Group A tonight against Scotland before facing Hungary and Switzerland.

With exciting young talents including Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz, the Germans have quietly built a reputation as a serious contender at the tournament.

Should they fulfil that promise it will be hard to imagine a scenario in which that cannot be traced back to a conversation between Nagelsmann and Kroos in February. 


At 41 years of age, veteran Portuguese centre-back Pepe is set to be the oldest competitor at Euro 2024.

Pepe, who won three Champions League titles alongside Ronaldo and Modrić at Real Madrid, has represented his country at four World Cups and four European Championships, lifting the trophy in 2016.

Embed from Getty Images

Pepé celebrates Champions League triumph with his compatriot Ronaldo

Despite his age, he remains a force to be reckoned with.

Pepe’s usual blend of ferocity and finesse were on display for Porto as they battled Arsenal all the way to penalties in the Champions League round-of-16.

Even with the emergence of young centre-backs Gonçalo Inácio and António Silva of Sporting Lisbon and Benfica respectively, the veteran is a strong contender to partner Ruben Dias in Roberto Martinez’s first choice 11, having started in Portugal’s latest friendly.

The Championships may mark the conclusion of his career altogether, with new Porto manager Vitor Bruno telling the media that Pepe intends to “listen to his body” and make a decision on his future after the tournament.

It would bring an end to a stunning career which Sérgio Conceição, the manager who Bruno recently replaced, reflected on in 2022.

“He is a reference. The best player I came across not only as a coach, but also as a player for 20 years”

Jan Vertonghen

For many members of Belgium’s golden generation, Euro 2024 may represent their last chance at lifting a trophy.

That chance has already gone for Eden Hazard, who retired from professional football in October, and Toby Alderweireld, who called time on his international career in March 2023.

Time is ticking for Kevin de Bruyne, who turns 33 later this month, and 31-year-old Romelu Lukaku, who Chelsea are once again looking to offload in the summer.

For 37-year-old Jan Vertonghen, the clock has struck zero – it is now or never.

Embed from Getty Images

Vertonghen goes to block Ivan Toney’s shot at Wembley

The former Spurs defender, now of RSC Anderlecht, is Belgium’s most capped player (154)  after featuring in three World Cups and two European Championships.

Wout Faes and Zeno Debast are more youthful options in central defence, but Vertonghen continues to be trusted by Domenico Tedesco.

Vertonghen was an unused substitute in Belgium’s latest friendly, a 3-0 win over Luxembourg, due to a groin injury but he started when Belgium faced England in March.

Though he dismissed suggestions that Euro 2024 would be his last major international tournament in September, his confidence was somewhat diminished by March when he cast doubt over his future after the tournament.

“The most important question for me is: can I give Anderlecht the player that I want to be, and that Anderlecht deserves?” he said.

“I don’t want to give Anderlecht my yes now and then find out after the European Championship that it won’t work anymore. But the opposite is also true.”

Jesús Navas

Jesús Navas last represented Spain at the Euros in 2012, tallying just over 100 minutes as they defended their title.

Now, at 38-years-old, the Sevilla captain returns as the oldest member of Luis de la Fuente’s squad.

The Spaniard boasts a World Cup title as well as a European Championship but has scarcely featured for the national team across the past decade.

Embed from Getty Images

Naval claimed silverware during his last major tournament with the national team

Navas did not make a Spain squad between May 2014 and March 2019, missing three major tournaments as a result.

Though he returned to the fold for Euros qualifiers and Nations League group games in 2019 and 2020, another period of absence soon followed and he missed the Euros in 2020 and the World Cup in 2022.

Mostly deployed as a right back now after earning a reputation as an electric winger in his early career, the former Manchester City player is unlikely to play a major role in Germany. Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal is the preferred full back, though Navas started Spain’s most recent friendly against Northern Ireland.

A return to a major international tournament after a 12-year hiatus is a triumph in itself, but Navas will be hoping to add another trophy to an already impressive resume at both international and club level.

The four-time Europa League champion is set to hang his boots up in December before taking a role inside Sevilla FC.

“My desire, which I have communicated to the President, is to continue playing until December in a transition to continue helping the team,” he said in May.

“Then I will hang up my boots having lived the dream that I always dreamed of playing for.”


  • Jonny Coffey

    Jonny Coffey, 21, is a London-based sports journalist focusing on football. Fascinated by tactics, Coffey is famed for his introduction of inverted full backs to the second division of Cambridge college football, and his admiration for Carlo Ancelotti’s eyebrows. A lifelong Arsenal fan, his interest in analysing wing play is a thinly-veiled ploy to rave about Bukayo Saka.