In sport, a golden generation or golden team is an exceptionally gifted group of players of similar age, whose achievements reach or are expected to reach a level of success beyond that which their team had previously achieved. Below is a list of teams who have been referred to by the media as golden generations, most of which played in the 21st century.
It was first coined by the Portuguese sports media to refer to a group of exceptionally gifted teenage Portuguese footballers. This group of players, spearheaded by "Golden Boy" Luís Figo, won two Football World Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991. This group were close to retirement in the early part of the 21st century, leading the European sports media to spotlight the Golden Generation's chances of winning a senior trophy at tournaments such as UEFA Euro 2000, the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Euro 2004 (which Portugal hosted) and the 2006 World Cup.
Since then, it has been used by media in many different countries, with usage spreading to other areas, for example, in rugby.
Led by Manu Ginóbili and accompanied by players like Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Walter Herrmann, the Argentina national basketball team between 2000 and 2012 is often titled the "Golden Generation".
The team received huge international success, winning the gold medal in the Americas Championship 2001, silver medal in 2002 FIBA World Championship, the gold medal in Basketball at the 2004 Summer Olympics, gold medal in FIBA Diamond Ball 2008, bronze medal in Basketball at the 2008 Summer Olympics, and gold medal in 2011 FIBA Americas Championship played in the city of Mar del Plata, Argentina. Resulting in Argentina reaching the first position in the FIBA Men's Ranking at the end of the 2008 Olympic Games.
The team was the first to defeat a United States national team with a full squad of NBA players. They did so by 87–80 in the 2002 FIBA World Championship held in Indianapolis. They again defeated the U.S. Team in the semifinals of the Olympic Basketball tournament in 2004, before beating Italy in the final of the same tournament. This makes them the only team being able to interrupt the dominance of the U.S. in the professional era of Basketball at the Olympics.
This Australian team waited 32 years to qualify for a FIFA World Cup tournament. This group of players formed the backbone of Australia's 2006 FIFA World Cup, 2007 AFC Asian Cup, 2010 FIFA World Cup, and 2011 AFC Asian Cup squads and was used extensively during Australia's qualification matches for those respective tournaments. The group are considered to be among the best Australia have ever produced and featured players such as Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer, Mark Bresciano, Lucas Neill, Craig Moore, Tony Popovic, Scott Chipperfield, Vince Grella, Stan Lazaridis and John Aloisi.
The Vietnam national under-23 football team under head coach Park Hang-seo became the first Southeast Asian team, to qualify for the finals of an AFC tournament, when they finished as runners up of the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship. The olympic squad later joined the 2018 Asian Games and got through to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history, only losing to South Korea in the semifinals and the United Arab Emirates in the Bronze medal match on penalties. Most players from the U-23 and Olympic squad were promoted to the senior National team after their great performances, meanwhile coach Park Hang-seo was promoted to head coach of the Vietnam national football team. Vietnam's Golden Generation later continually gained historical achievements, becoming one of the top 8 national teams of the 2019 Asian Cup when they made it to the quarterfinals, before losing to eventual runners up of the tournament, Japan. Vietnam also currently rank first in their World Cup 2022 Qualification group. Numerous players in the Golden Generation have played internationally, with several from the 2014 U19 National Team experiencing matches with young English and Italian teams, while those who come from the 2017 U20 National Team were the first young Southeast Asian Team ever to compete in the World Cup. The Golden Era started in 2017, the year that Vietnam marked a milestone when its U20 team reached the FIFA U20 World Cup for the first time in the history of Vietnamese football. It has since progressed into a fantastic 2018 and 2019 where Vietnam performed extremely well in regional tournaments, such as the AFF Championship, and Southeast Asian Games to prove they are the king of Southeast Asia. As well as continental tournaments, such as the AFC U-23 Championship, Asian Games, Asian Cup, and the AFC FIFA World Cup qualifying to show they are an emerging, fast developing football nation, that might be slowly creeping in with the top of Asia, and could be a future new World Cup representative. Vietnam is considered to be one of the “dark horses” at the AFC Asian level. Here are 11 representative players of the Golden Generational : Nguyễn Công Phượng, Nguyễn Tuấn Anh, Nguyễn Quang Hải, Nguyễn Tiến Linh, Đỗ Hùng Dũng, Quế Ngọc Hải, Trần Đình Trọng, Bùi Tiến Dũng (Defender), Đặng Văn Lâm, Đoàn Văn Hậu, Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng. Other considerable players include: Vũ Văn Thanh, Phạm Đức Huy, Nguyễn Huy Hùng, Lương Xuân Trường (Vietnam 2018 U23 national team captain), Đỗ Duy Mạnh, Hà Đức Chinh, Phan Văn Đức, Nguyễn Hoàng Đức, Nguyễn Hữu Thắng, Nguyễn Thành Chung, Hồ Tấn Tài, Tô Văn Vũ, Nghiêm Xuân Tú, Hồ Khắc Ngọc, Mạc Hồng Quân, Võ Huy Toàn, etc
The current Belgium squad is considered by the media, press and fans as the best Belgium squad ever; featuring key players such as Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Axel Witsel, Thibaut Courtois, Thorgan Hazard, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, and Jan Vertonghen. At the 2018 FIFA World Cup, from the beginning of the tournament, Belgium were considered by many as one of the favourites to win the tournament. Belgium finished top of the group on maximum points, beating Panama, Tunisia and England. Belgium earned a famous 2–1 win over five-time champions Brazil in the quarter-finals. Belgium lost 1–0 to France in the semi-finals, but beat England in the third place play-off, Belgium's best ever result at the World Cup and best result at a major tournament since 1980.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (2010–2017)
The current Bosnia and Herzegovina national team was seen by many as the most talented generation the nation has ever had. They qualified for 2014 FIFA World Cup, their first ever World Cup since their independence and got their first ever World Cup victory, against Iran on 25 June 2014.
The current Croatia team have been considered by several British media such as The Guardian as the "Second Coming of the Golden Generation"; in reference to the Golden Generation of Croatia from the late 1990s who won the bronze medal in at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Croatia's debut at the World Cup. The team, under the leadership of captain Luka Modrić and the style of play by key players such as Mario Mandžukić, Ivan Rakitić and Ivan Perišić, reached the 2018 FIFA World Cup final, losing to France 2–4, thus earning the silver medal. From the final onwards, however, their results continued to decline following the retirement of Mandžukić, Danijel Subašić and Vedran Ćorluka. They debuted at the UEFA Nations League with a 6–0 loss to Spain in Elche, and were ultimately relegated from the competition's first tier by England. The squad were praised for their performance at the World Cup.
Czech Republic (1996–2006)
The Golden generation of the Czech Republic were born in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Highlights of their generation include finishing second in UEFA Euro 1996 and third in UEFA Euro 2004. The national team was also qualified for the first time to a Fifa World Cup in 2006. During the first few years of the twenty first century the team were often ranked in the top five of the FIFA World Ranking. Czech Republic was the second best team in the world in 2005. Many of the squad during this time played in the best leagues in Europe for the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus F.C. One of them, Pavel Nedvěd, even won the Ballon d'Or in 2003. For the first time in the history of this small Central European country, a Czech player won the Champions League. It happened in 2005 during Miracle of Istanbul. Milan Baroš and Vladimír Šmicer winning with Liverpool FC.
During the reign of Sven-Göran Eriksson, Adam Crozier, the chief executive of the Football Association and some members of the British media, touted players such as David Beckham, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard as the nucleus of a potential Golden Generation team. Despite some impressive performances such as the 2001 Germany vs England football match in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers and the individual players' successes at club level, inconsistency resulted in this group of players failing to live up to expectations, resulting in the group becoming synonymous with disappointment and failed potential.
After Eriksson left in 2006 and Steve McClaren became manager, although many of the players continued to achieve success with their respective clubs, the team failed to qualify for UEFA Euro 2008, only the second time England failed to qualify for a major tournament in over 20 years (of the last 12 major tournaments). Rio Ferdinand claimed that the pressure of the "Golden Generation" tag had a negative effect on the players, restricting their ability to perform to their full potential for the national team. In 2017, Pep Guardiola said he could not understand why England did not achieve more with players such as Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand and claimed they were on the same level as Spain's golden generation of 2008–2014.
In late 1998 the France national football team began a period of international dominance defeating Brazil 3–0 to win the 1998 FIFA World Cup, becoming the first French team to win the World Cup. Two years later, David Trezeguet's golden goal in extra time gave France a 2–1 win over Italy to give France the 2000 European Championship. France was subsequently ranked No. 1 in the FIFA World Rankings and ranked No. 1 in the World Football Elo Ratings for two years. The team also secured the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup. Despite this impressive recent record, the French team flopped at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, losing to newcomers Senegal in the opening match of the tournament and crashing out in the group stages without scoring a goal and taking only one point from their three games. A year later they were successful at the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup. They also reached the World Cup final in Berlin at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, where they lost to Italy. The French golden team was composed of players such as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Lilian Thuram, Patrick Vieira, Didier Deschamps, Fabien Barthez, Emmanuel Petit, Marcel Desailly, and Bixente Lizarazu.
Between 1950 and 1956, the team recorded 42 victories, 7 draws and just one defeat, in the 1954 World Cup final against West Germany. Under the Elo rating system they achieved the highest rating recorded by a national side (2230 points, 30 June 1954).
After losing to Croatia in the 2014 World Cup Playoff finals, Iceland got back on the horse and entered a golden generation. Iceland qualified for a major tournament for the first time in 2015 after finishing second in Group A of qualification for Euro 2016, losing only two games, and beating the Netherlands – which had finished third in the 2014 World Cup – twice. During the qualification, they reached their then highest ranking in the FIFA World Rankings, 23rd. Iceland were drawn into a group with Portugal, Hungary and Austria for the final tournament.
At the tournament finals, Iceland recorded 1–1 draws in their first two group stage matches against Portugal and Hungary. They then advanced from their group with a 2–1 victory against Austria. Iceland qualified for the tournament's quarter-finals after a 2–1 upset win over England in the Round of 16, which led to England manager Roy Hodgson resigning in disgrace immediately after the final whistle. However, they were eliminated by host nation France in the quarter-finals, 5–2.
Iceland qualified for the 2018 World Cup, their first ever appearance in the world championship, securing qualification on 9 October 2017 after a 2–0 win against Kosovo. In doing so, they became the lowest-populated country ever to reach the finals. Iceland were drawn to play Croatia, Argentina and Nigeria in a group that was considered by many as the "group of death". Despite a challenging group, Iceland were tipped to advance from the group by several journalist websites, based on their impressive performance in Euro 2016. Their maiden match at the World Cup was against 2014 runners-up Argentina, with Iceland surprisingly holding Argentina to a 1–1 draw. However, their chances of advancing from the group were hurt following a 2–0 loss to Nigeria, putting Iceland to play with full determination against already qualified Croatia. Iceland lost to Croatia in their final group game; and because Argentina won against Nigeria, Iceland finished bottom of the group with just a point.
A tenacious and hardworking bunch, they have won over the hearts of many football fans, and their fan following at the 2016 Euros will be remembered forever, with around 10% of the nation's population making the journey. A team that was once considered a football non-entity have burst onto the scene in the last 6 years, and hopefully they will be there to stay.
Portugal won consecutive FIFA Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991. Subsequently, Portugal's senior team reached the semi-finals of Euro 2000 and were runners-up at Euro 2004 on home soil. They were also 2006 FIFA World Cup semi-finalists. Some critics have written that this generation underachieved at international level. It included players such as Rui Costa; Joao Pinto; Paulo Sousa; Costinha; Ricardo Carvalho; Luis Figo; Fernando Couto; and a young Cristiano Ronaldo.
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This generation of players (most notably including Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Carlos Marchena, Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina, Cesc Fàbregas, David Silva, Jesus Navas, Juan Mata and Pedro) helped Spain win the UEFA European Championship in 2008 and 2012, and the FIFA World Cup in 2010, making them the first team ever to win the World Cup and both continental championships either side of it. They also reached the final of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. During this time, Spain dominated the FIFA World Rankings, topping the rankings almost uninterrupted for six years, between July 2008 and July 2014.
Yugoslavia's generation of young footballers won the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship and finished runner-up at the 1990 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. The nation then reached the quarter-finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup and, a year later, a Red Star Belgrade team featuring many of the national team's stars became the first Yugoslav side to ever win the European Cup. Yugoslavia qualified for UEFA Euro 1992 with seven wins from eight matches and the best goalscoring record and goal difference of any team during the qualifying phase. However, the team was disqualified prior to the tournament due to the Yugoslav Wars (it was replaced by the eventual champion, Denmark) and did not play together again after the country's division. Several players from the Yugoslav team went on to finish in third place at the 1998 World Cup with Croatia.
The Algerian team which reached the second round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been described as a golden generation, or a "second golden generation" in reference to the Algerian team which reached the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and which won the 1990 African Nations Cup.
Ivory Coast (2006–2015)
Despite winning the 1992 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, the country saw an outpour of talent during the first half of the 2000s (decade). The majority of this generation consisted of talented players who enjoyed and still enjoy considerable success in Europe. Led by Didier Drogba (who is also the national team's highest ever goalscorer), several other players found contracts in the biggest football stages in the world, such as brothers Yaya and Kolo Touré, Didier Zokora, Emmanuel Eboué, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou. During this period, Ivory Coast managed its first FIFA World Cup appearances in 2006, 2010 and 2014. They also won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015.
Costa Rica (2014–)
The "Ticos" surprised the whole world with their performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup when they topped their group that included former world champions Italy Uruguay and England. In the round of 16 they beat Greece 5–3 on penalties after a 1–1 draw, seeing them through to the quarterfinals for the first time ever. At the quarterfinals, the Costa Ricans fought the Netherlands to a 0–0 draw after extra time; the game then went to penalties in which Costa Rica lost 4–3 to the Netherlands. This "Golden Generations" include a selection of players that have played and succeeded in Europe such as: Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges, Bryan Oviedo, Joel Campbell, Óscar Duarte, Giancarlo González and others.
By winning the gold medal in the Americas Championship 2001, silver medal in 2002 FIBA World Championship, the gold medal in Basketball at the 2004 Summer Olympics, gold medal in FIBA Diamond Ball 2008, bronze medal in Basketball at the 2008 Summer Olympics, and gold medal in 2011 FIBA Americas Championship played in the city of Mar del Plata, Argentina. Resulting in Argentina reached the first position in the FIBA Men's Ranking at the end of the 2008 Olympic Games.
The Chile team won back to back Copa América titles in 2015 and in 2016. The backbone of this team came from the U-20 squad that went on to finish third in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup (most notably Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal). However, in 2017 they finished runners-up to Germany's B-team at the Confederations Cup and then inexplicably failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, despite most of the squad being in the primes of their careers, following unexpected losses to Bolivia and Paraguay in qualification. 
The current Colombia team are considered as the "Second Golden Generation" of Colombia, in reference to Colombia's Golden Generation from the 1980s and 1990s. Under key players James Rodríguez, Juan Cuadrado and Radamel Falcao, the team reached the 2014 FIFA World Cup knockout stage after topping a group featuring Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan, winning all three games. Colombia then beat Uruguay in the round of sixteen, before suffering a 1–2 defeat to host nation Brazil, in the quarter-finals. James Rodríguez was the tournament top goalscorer; and Colombia earned the FIFA Fair Play Award. At the Copa América Centenario, Colombia won third place after beating the United States 1–0. At the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Colombia were considered group favourites for Group H; featuring Japan, Poland and Senegal. Following a 1–2 defeat to Japan in which they went down to 10-men in under five minutes, Colombia beat Poland 3–0 and later beat Senegal 1–0 to qualify as group winners. They were knocked out by England in the round of sixteen; losing on penalties. Between June and August 2016, Colombia were ranked as 3rd in both FIFA and Elo ranking.
Born in the mid-1980s, the Canadian national men's hockey team has had a golden generation which contributed to five consecutive IIHF World U20 Championships between 2005 and 2009, and subsequently won back-to-back gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, and gold at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Twelve players have also won the Stanley Cup and six are members of the Triple Gold Club.
Born in the mid to late 1990s, the Finnish national men's hockey team has had a golden generation of young stars. Finland won the IIHF World U20 Championships in 2014, 2016 and 2019. In the 2016 NHL Draft, three of the top five picks were Finnish.
Born in the early 1970s, the Swedish national ice hockey team had a golden generation of players that achieved great success in the NHL and eventually won gold at the 2006 Winter Olympics, beating Finland with 3–2 in the gold medal game.
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