“Our mother has asked us to score a goal each and to make sure the match ends in a draw,” said Turkey international Halil Altintop, the twin brother of Hamit, on the eve of a crucial encounter between Schalke 04 and Bayern Munich in 1997.
Mrs Altintop might have been able to keep the peace on that occasion, but having a twin brother in the game can sometimes be as much a source of friction as it is of harmony. FIFA.com tells the story of football’s many twins, the siblings who invariably spell double trouble.
A case in point is provided by the Van de Kerkhof twins, who specialised in making mischief. The Dutch duo bemused defenders by playing virtually interchangeable roles in the Dutch midfield and can proudly claim to be the only brothers to have scored at a FIFA World Cup™ finals, both of them getting on the scoresheet at Argentina 1978.
I was playing at left-back and Vasili was on the right wing. He had to mark me at corners and was fouling me all the time.
Rene and Willy are not the only twins to have emerged from the Netherlands, however. The De Boer brothers, Frank and Ronald, took up the mantle and became the most successful twins in the history of the game, the only ones to have won a UEFA Champions League title together, in 1995. Yet, the De Boer boys have not always presented a united front. When Ronald failed to beat Brazil’s Claudio Taffarel from the spot in a semi-final shootout at France 1998, his other half was the only member of the Dutch team to criticise him.
Bordeaux’s celebrated Vujovic brothers Zoran and Zlatko were another fraternal pairing to endure semi-final penalty heartache. A place in the final of the 1987 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final was at stake when Zlatko’s nerve failed him in a shootout against Lokomotiv Leipzig. Unable to take his spot-kick for fear of missing, he sent his brother up in his place. Inevitably Zoran missed, though it is not clear if the Vujovic boys engaged in recriminations afterwards.
A hint of irritation can be detected in Alexei Berezutsky’s description of a Russian league encounter with his identical twin Vasili. “I was playing at left-back and Vasili was on the right wing. He had to mark me at corners and was fouling me all the time.” Fortunately, the towering twosome soon paired up at CSKA Moscow, never to be parted again.
Joined at the hip
The Egyptian twins Hossam and Ibrahim Hassan have become similarly inseparable, following a career path that has taken them from Cairo giants Al-Ahly to PAOK Salonika of Greece, then Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax and on to Zamalek, the fiercest rivals of the club where they made their debuts. The Hassan brothers are best known, however, for their contributions to the national side, with Hossam having made 160 appearances for his country and Ibrahim 125.
Emmanuele and Antonio Filippini of Italy have also tried to stick together over the years. Team-mates at Ospitaletto between 1992 and 1995, they moved to Brescia in 2002 and Palermo in 2004 before running out side by side at Livorno until 2009.
Spanish siblings Sergio and Francis Suarez have taken a similar path. On loan at little-known Castillo during the 2005/06 season, they then returned to their hometown club of Las Palmas. And if reports in the Spanish press are to be believed, they could well be on their way to the mighty Barcelona in the near future.
One pair of twins who have chosen to go their separate ways are the Degen boys of Switzerland. Having both tasted life in the Swiss and German leagues, David opted to return home for Young Boys of Berne, while Philipp is attempting to earn a regular first-team place at Liverpool.
Staying in England, Manchester United’s squad features another pair of brothers who are impossible to tell apart: Brazilian teenagers Fabio and Rafael da Silva. Their similarity in looks is quite remarkable, so remarkable in fact that in brandishing a yellow card during last October’s Carling Cup match between United and Barnsley, the referee got the twins mixed up.
That was nothing compared to the confusion caused by the Germany team when they arrived for the FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup Chile 2008. Coach Maren Meinert gave everyone a headache when she called up not one but two sets of twins, Nicole and Sylvie Banecki and Monique and Isabel Kerschowski – not that it stopped the Germans from claiming third place in the competition.
Lars and Sven Bender did not fair quite so well when representing Germany at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009, where the Europeans were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Brazil. And Gambia’s Sanna and Sainy Niassi had little chance to shine at Canada 2007, with Austria ending their tournament in the last 16. The duo are now playing their trade in Major League Soccer in the USA.
The last word, however, goes to Rafael da Silva, who spoke about his relationship with his other half Flavio to FIFA.com at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007: “We are just like any other brothers. We have lots of fun, we love football and we have the odd fight too.” Spoken like a true twin!