11 forgotten internationals who shone after returning from the abyss

Santi Cazorla Spain
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Michael Laudrup (2003)

Creative differences with coach Richard Moller Nielsen led to Laudrup – surely Denmark’s most gifted player – walking away from the national team during qualifying for Euro '92. Although only 26, he’d already been an international regular for eight years.

While his team-mates were on their way to winning the tournament – after getting a late call-up to replace Yugoslavia – he was on holiday in St Lucia and New York, constantly trying to get goal updates from indifferent barmen.

He finally returned to the side in August 1993, after almost three years out, and helped Denmark win the Intercontinental Cup in 1995 – a precursor to the Confederations Cup. Alongside brother Brian, he was named in the All-Star Team at the 1998 World Cup, after captaining Denmark to the quarter finals.

Essam El-Hadary (2017)

An injury to first-choice goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shenawy in Egypt’s first game of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations meant a return to the side for 44-year-old Essam El-Hadary, who became the oldest player ever to feature in the tournament.

El-Hadary had originally retired in 2013 after falling down the pecking order, and although he wasn’t expected to feature, he turned out to be one of Egypt’s stars as they reached the final (where they lost to Cameroon, sadly for him). The keeper had a daughter the same age as his team-mate Ramadan Sobhi, but saved two penalties as Egypt beat Burkina Faso in the semi-finals, and only conceded three goals in the entire tournament.

He made it through to the 2018 World Cup too where, aged 45, he became the oldest player ever to play in the tournament – and even saved a penalty against Saudi Arabia in Egypt's final group game. In August he retired for good, understandably chuffed with his achievements. 

Lothar Matthaus (1998)

The defender was already Germany’s most-capped player of all time, but feuds with Jurgen Klinsmann – who took over from him as captain – and Berti Vogts meant his international career seemed to be over.

Although he never officially retired, it was a surprise when Matthaus was recalled to the side after three years for the 1998 World Cup, becoming the second player to appear at five editions of the tournament (and the only non-goalkeeper).

He helped Germany reach the quarter-finals and remained in the team for Euro 2000, which didn’t go quite as well. Germany crashed out in the group stage, losing to England who went out with them, and Matthaus’s international career ended at the age of 39.   

Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele (2006)

With nothing else to win, the influential French trio retired en masse from international football after Euro 2004, but were persuaded to return by Raymond Domenech in late 2005.

It was a masterstroke. After labouring through qualifying (undefeated, but with five draws against Israel, Ireland, and Switzerland) they turned it on at the tournament proper, knocking out Spain, Brazil and Portugal to reach the final.

Thuram and Makelele even returned under Domenech for Euro 2008, while Zidane’s playing career ended with that headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final. It’s one way to make sure you don’t get asked back, we suppose.

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