England U21: James Milner, Micah Richards & Theo Walcott in XI that reached Euro 2009 final

England Under-21 European Championships final 2009

There have been plenty of false dawns for the England national side. 

The Three Lions have managed to become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, consistently failing to succeed on the grand stage when everything appears to be in the trophy-strapped nation's favour. 

Almost twelve years ago, feelings of optimism amongst an ever-expectant nation began to rise in light of the England Under-21 side's journey to the final of the U21 European Championships. 

Stuart Pearce's contingent of up-and-coming youngsters met Germany in the final having beaten host nation Sweden on penalties in the semis. 

Unfortunately, Germany, so often England's nemesis in major competitions, exerted their supremacy with a remarkably routine 4-0 win. 

The victors boasted a starting XI that included Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil, but Pearce fielded a few future stars of his own.

With that in mind, GIVEMESPORT have detailed the starting XI below and summarised how their respective careers panned out following their Euro final heartbreak. 

Let's take a look...

Goalkeeper: Scott Loach

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Scott Loach was contracted to Watford when he was tasked with the challenge of keeping a rampant Der Mannschaft XI at bay. 

The glovesman ended up making 163 appearances for Watford and turned out in the Championship 184 times, but he's also spent a significant portion of his career outside of the Football League. 

Now contracted to struggling Barnet, Loach is in danger of dropping below the National League for the very first time with his side languishing in 22nd place in the fifth tier of English football. 

Right-back: Martin Cranie

Martin Cranie is a quintessential EFL journeyman. 

The versatile defender never graduated to the senior England squad and has spent the majority of his career in the Championship.

Following notable spells with Barnsley and Coventry City, Cranie now plys his trade with Luton Town and is going strong at 34 years of age.

Centre-back: Micah Richards

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Unless you happen to have avoided Premier League football altogether for the past few months, you'll be firmly aware of Micah Richards' refreshing approach to football punditry and budding bromance with Roy Keane. 

When Richards turned out for England's U21s in the 2009 Euros final, the Manchester City youngster was a phenomenon who promised so much.

Richards earned 13 caps for the senior side and was a regular under Roberto Mancini as the Italian led Manchester City to their first ever Premier League title in 2012. 

His departure from the Etihad Stadium in 2014 effectively signalled the end of his peak years as his career fizzled out during spells with Fiorentina and Aston Villa before his retirement in 2019.

Centre-back: Nedum Onuoha 

Another graduate of Man City's academy didn't boast the promise of his central defensive partner and had something of an understated career. 

Nedum Onuoha was a victim of City's revolution following Sheikh Mansour's acquisition of the club, and a loan spell with Sunderland preceded his permanent switch to QPR in 2012. 

Following a six year spell in West London and a stint with MLS outfit Real Salt Lake City during the twilight phase of his career, Onuoha retired from football at the start of 2021.

Left-back: Kieran Gibbs 

One of four players from this XI who remain contracted to a Premier League club.

Kieran Gibbs has been a solid Premier League left-back during spells with Arsenal and now West Bromwich Albion without ever setting the world alight. 

The 31-year-old's international career never really took flight and there is little chance he'll be adding to his 10 caps before he retires from the game. 

Defensive-midfield: Fabrice Muamba 

Fabrice Muamba

It's incredibly fortunate that we're not discussing Fabrice Muamba in a distinctly more sobering tone. 

Muamba was an archetypal box-to-box midfielder blessed with a broad repertoire of physical and technical qualities, but at 23 years of age he had to be rushed to an intensive care unit after collapsing in Bolton Wanderers' FA Cup clash with Spurs back in 2012. 

Muamba was treated by six medics on the field, who attempted to resuscitate him before he was taken to the London Chest Hospital. 

It was a harrowing, deeply concerning incident but thankfully he recovered. 

On the basis of sound medical advice he announced his retirement shortly afterwards. 

Muamba has since written an autobiography about his turbulent journey from the Democratic Republic of Congo to becoming a professional footballer in England and, of course, his near-death experience.  

Central-midfield: Lee Cattermole 

Lee Cattermole - part thug, part footballer - is an iconic player for all the wrong reasons. 

Nobody was ever safe when the bullish midfielder's studs were in close proximity, and there's unlikely to be another player quite like him amid the rapidly changing standards of what's acceptable in football.

The tough-tackling brute was sent off seven times in his Premier League career and is the seventh most booked player in the history of the division with 87 cautions. 

Following a ten-year spell with Sunderland, Cattermole played for VVV Venlo in the Netherlands for one season before retiring in August 2020. 

Central-midfield: Mark Noble 

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They say that nice guys finish last.

Mr West Ham captained the England youth team against Germany but, as the Hammers fans are all too acutely aware, his promise, consistency and loyalty never earned him a cap for the senior side. 

Noble has managed to find that sweet spot where he's been good enough to keep his place in the West Ham starting XI but never quite risen to a level sufficient to catch a potential suitor's eye. 

One man's loyalty is another man's mediocrity. 

Right-wing: James Milner 

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James Milner will be remembered as both an exceptional footballer and an internet meme unto himself. 

By virtue of his mechanically efficient approach to football and ability to slot into almost any role in defence or midfield, an iconic Twitter account named "Boring James Milner" once dominated social media feeds. 

The page has died of death somewhat while he's racked up a total of eight trophies, including three Premier League titles with two different clubs and the Champions League.

And, judging by video snippets from training ground videos and his interviews with the British media, it turns out Milner's actually anything but boring. 

Left-wing: Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson established himself as a regular starter at Manchester City shortly after the England U21's heartbreak, and earned 12 caps for the senior side. 

However, Johnson later became embroiled in legal controversy and was sentenced to six-years in prison in 2016 having been convicted of engaging in sexual activity with a 15-year-old.

The 33-year-old served half of his sentence and was released in March 2019.

Centre-forward: Theo Walcott 

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Rounding off the list is arguably the player who was expected to achieve the most in the game. 

The centre-forward, who was blessed with searing pace as a teenager, was the closest thing England fans had seen to Michael Owen after the Liverpool icon broke onto the scene. 

Controversially, the Southampton academy graduate earned selection for the World Cup in 2006 aged just 17 and went on to receive 47 caps for the senior side, but he always lacked the decision-making required to capitalise on the promising situations his speed so often facilitated.

Like so many others before him, Walcott just couldn't live up to the fanfare surrounding his development. 

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