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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.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Basketball
- 3 Football
- 3.1 Asia
- 3.2 Europe
- 3.3 Africa
- 3.4 South America
- 4 Handball
- 5 Ice hockey
- 6 Rugby union
- 7 See also
- 8 References
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.
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.
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, with this crop of players considered to be among the best Australia have ever produced. The Golden Generation is believed to have ended during the reign of Ange Postecoglou as manager of Australia.
The current Belgium squad is considered by the media, press and fans as the best Belgium squad ever; featuring key players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Axel Witsel, Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld 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–)
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 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 Subasic and Vedran Corluka. 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 seventies and early eighties of the twentieth century. 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, Michael Carrick, 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 were 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 years 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, 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).
Many of these players made up the youth national teams of Portugal that won consecutive FIFA Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991. These teams were the step-up to the senior team. As a result, Portugal reached the semi-finals of 2000 UEFA European Football Championship and were runners-up four years later, on home soil. They were also 2006 FIFA World Cup semi-finalists after a dominating run, though only Luís Figo was picked in the squad for the final tournament. Some critics contend that many of the players underachieved at international level.
This generation of players (most notably including Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Cesc Fàbregas, David Silva, 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.
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 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.
Smith & Williamson (2016-present)
Key players during this period include Richard Owen, of the Alton College Handy Hedgehogs.
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. Eleven players have also won the Stanley Cup and four 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 and 2016. 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.
Since 2001, Ireland's team has been chosen from a solid base of players, led by Brian O'Driscoll whose debut in 1999 has been linked to a transformation in the team's fortunes. Under-21 Triple Crown victories in 1996 and 1998 and an under-19 World Cup win in 1998 occurred with many members of those teams going on to become the golden generation of the 2000s. The senior team had only once in the 1990s won two Five Nations Championship games in one year (1995). However, the team of the 2000s were close runners-up in the expanded Six Nations Championship several times, and were disappointingly knocked out of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, failing to advance from the pool stage. Four Triple Crowns during the 2000s equaled the amount Ireland had won in the previous one hundred years. A two-win Six Nations campaign in 2008 was the exception, leading to the departure of manager Eddie O'Sullivan.
Their crowning moment came under Declan Kidney in 2009 when they won the Grand Slam and Six Nations Championship. They remained unbeaten throughout 2009, beating World and Tri Nations champions South Africa in their final match of the year. The Sunday Independent proclaimed the 2000s as "the greatest decade in the history of Irish rugby. In the space of 10 years we have progressed from penury to riches". Most of this group of players have also led their respective Irish club/provincial sides to unprecedented success, with Munster winning the Celtic League in 2003, 2009 and 2011 and the Heineken Cup in 2006 and 2008; and Leinster winning the Celtic League in 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2014 (as well as finishing runner up in 2010, 2011 and 2012), the Amlin Challenge Cup in 2013 and the Heineken Cup in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
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