In our regular Sunday feature, FIFA.com presents some of the biggest names from planet football who will be celebrating their birthdays over the coming week.
3 - Oussama Darragi (24) was a mere teenager when Tunisia won the 2004 CAF African Cup of Nations title in Tunis, but he was a central player in Sudan as the Carthage Eagles claimed this year’s CAF African Nations Championship. The competition showcases players based in the domestic leagues of their respective nations and Darragi used it to begin displaying the full breadth of his talents, to the extent that he is now considered one of Tunisia’s brightest and most experienced talents. He has helped Esperance return to the fore both at home and on the continental scene and now hopes to steer Tunisia to a FIFA World Cup™ to make up for the anguish of narrowly missing out on South Africa 2010.
4 - Branco (47) was an active member of the Brazil side that tasted glory at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA. Few can forget his thunderous free kick against the Netherlands which sent the eventual winners through to the last four, and he also held his nerve to register from the spot in the penalty shoot-out success against Italy in the showpiece. Having previously appeared at Mexico 1986 and Italy 1990, the left-back was thrilled to finally get his hands on the coveted trophy. However, despite his talent the former Porto defender never plied his trade with one of Europe’s powerhouse clubs and preferred to showcase his ability with some of Brazil’s biggest names. He saw out the twilight of his career in the United States with the New York MetroStars, now known as the New York Red Bulls.
5 - Fernando Morientes (35) has experienced memorable triumphs wherever he has played, racking up numerous titles with Real Madrid in particular, and also at Liverpool, Valencia and Marseille. He was likewise a key member of the Monaco side that upset predictions by winning their way through to the 2004 UEFA Champions League final. Successful on the club stage, the prolific striker nonetheless acquainted himself with disappointment when representing his country, Spain experiencing group-stage exits at France 1998 and UEFA EURO 2004 as well as being stopped short in the quarter-finals at Korea/Japan 2002. Even with those setbacks taken into consideration, Morientes remains a monument of the Spanish game.
6 - Robert Kovac (37) deserves to be considered one of the most accomplished defenders Europe has produced in recent years. The likes of Juventus, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen all sought his services and he can boast a handsome haul of medals from the club game. He also impressed on a regular basis for Croatia, representing his country with aplomb at the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups, in addition to EURO 2004 and EURO 2008. After reaching the last eight in Austria and Switzerland, Kovac opted to return home and he ended his career with Dinamo Zagreb.
7 - Ismaeil Matar (28) made waves by winning the adidas Golden Ball as best player at the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, having led the hosts through to the last-16. Since then, he has become a stalwart in their senior side, taking part in three AFC Asian Cups thus far. Matar’s club side Al Wahda are anxious to hold on to his talents too.
8 - Igor Akinfeev (25) dreams of being considered in the same bracket as the great goalkeepers of the Soviet era, such as Lev Yashin and Rinat Dassayev. First spotted at a young age, the Moscow native certainly looks to be on the right trajectory, having won plaudits at both club and international level. He helped CSKA Moscow lift the UEFA Cup in 2005, putting in performances which raised his profile in his homeland, and was heavily involved again as Russia progressed through to the semi-finals at EURO 2008. He is doubtless hoping he will still be wearing the No1 shirt when the FIFA World Cup comes to Russia in 2018, by which time his experience could make him an even more valuable asset.
9 - Robbie Fowler (35) rose to the fore with Liverpool, where he became the darling of the Anfield faithful due to his astonishing goalscoring instincts. After spells with Leeds United and Manchester City, he returned to the Merseyside club for a second stint in 2006, while with England he took part in EURO 1996, EURO 2000 and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Fowler announced his international retirement following the latter tournament and subsequently took his finishing abilities to Cardiff City and Blackburn Rovers, before setting sail for Australia, where he turned out for North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory.