As the world’s biggest football event kicked off today in Russia, 32 national teams are set to fight for the ultimate glory.
Whether it will be fan favorites Brazil, France or Germany who take home the coveted cup on July 15 remains to be seen. But millions around the world will be watching, including many future World Cup players. After all, today’s players watched legends of the past as children too, and it inspired them to pursue big dreams and a burning passion to be the best.
World Cup players reveal the moment they fell in love with the sport
English striker Harry Kane told FIFA TV that his earliest memory is of the 2002 World Cup quarter finals, when Brazil beat England with a spectacular free-kick by Ronaldinho: “It still hurts me to this day… and since then it has always been a dream to go on and play in one.”
Colombian striker Radamel Falcao grew up watching one iconic moment over and over again: Freddy Rincon’s defining goal against Germany in 1990. Only four years old, he remembers the celebrations more, but in the years after Falcao and everyone else “grew up seeing that goal over and over again.”
For Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev a defining moment was the 1994 World Cup, the only one to be held in the USA up until now. But it wasn’t the location – it was truly understanding the game for the first time. “It was an overwhelming feeling,” he told FIFA TV, remembering former Russia player Oleg Salenko’s epic five goals against Cameroon – a game the current hosts nation carried 6 to 1.
Mexico’s Javier Hernandez often rushed home from school during the 1998 World Cup to see idol Ronaldo, South Korea’s Son Heungmin’s life – and fashion choices – changed drastically in 2002. After South Korea beat Spain 5 to 3 in penalty shots, “everyone was going crazy. We couldn’t believe it.”
In fact, the South Korean forward got so into the game along with pretty much everyone else that they all started wearing red shirts to honor their team. “I can’t choose one moment from that World Cup,” he told FIFA TV. “Every moment in 2002 was fantastic,”
Brazil’s Neymar remembers an epic goal from 1994 against Holland, while France’s Paul Pogba watched his country dominate Brazil 3 to 0 in 1998. Just six or seven years old at the time, Pogba recounted the celebrations that followed that win: “we all went outside and climbed over the cars. There were horns sounding and we were all happy.”
For Spain’s Thiago Alcantara, 1994 World Cup struck close to home. His father played for Brazil’s national team, bringing the cup home. “I was only three and though I don’t remember the matches, I remember him coming home, the celebration, and all the family being there.” He also recalls the wild celebrations following Spain’s win over The Netherlands in 2010. When the defining goal was scored “there were fire extinguishers going off and oil and knives flying in the air. The TV ended up on the floor as well.”
Iran midfielder Alizera Jahanbakhsh recalled a premonitory moment from the 2006 World Cup, when watching with his father, he turned to him saying “This is my biggest dream – to see you one day playing, wearing that shirt at a World Cup.” And although neither of them really believed it would happen back then, for Jahanbakhsh’s father’s dream became his dream. And today that dream came true.
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