In our regular Sunday feature, FIFA.com presents you with some of the biggest names in football who will be celebrating their birthdays during the coming week.
Mario Balotelli (22) had an eventful and successful year with both club and country. The charismatic Italian was an integral part of the Manchester City side that dramatically became English champions in May, and he scored three goals for his country at UEFA EURO 2012, confirming his reputation as one of Europe’s most formidable strikers in the process. Balotelli made a name for himself at Inter Milan, where he secured three Serie A championships, an Italian Cup, an Italian Super Cup and the UEFA Champions League title. After signing for the Citizens, he picked up an FA Cup winners’ medal in his first year, followed by the long-awaited English Premier League crown last season.
Thomas Ravelli (53) is one of the greatest names in the history of Swedish football. The well-respected ex-goalkeeper played a key role in his nation’s unexpected runs to the semi-finals of both EURO 1992 and the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™, where the Blagult finished third. Ravelli also appeared at Italy 1990. The former custodian began his professional career at Osters, winning three Swedish league titles, before joining Gothenburg, where he added six further championships and a Swedish Cup to his footballing CV. He finished his career in North America, with Tampa Bay Mutiny. Ravelli was named Swedish Player of the Year in 1981.
Jay Jay Okocha (39) was part of the golden generation that propelled Nigeria to a maiden FIFA World Cup appearance in 1994, and repeated the feat at France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002. He helped his country claim the 1994 CAF Africa Cup of Nations and the gold medal at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament at Atlanta 1996. The talented midfielder participated in five Africa Cup of Nations tournaments in total, regularly entertaining fans with his skills and even finishing top scorer in 2004. Okocha starred in numerous European leagues, starting in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt. After experiencing Turkish and French football with Fenerbahce and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, he moved to Premier League outfit Bolton Wanderers. The Nigerian playmaker enjoyed a spell with Qatar SC, before returning to England to take on one final challenge at Hull City. Throughout a rich and varied career, Okocha was the recipient of no fewer than seven Nigerian Footballer of the Year awards.
Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (37) is one of the best goalkeepers ever to come out of Japan. His achievements include helping the Samurai Blue to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever, at France 1998, and playing a part in their subsequent Germany 2006 campaign. Sandwiched in between those feats, the Asian 'keeper contributed towards Japan’s two memorable triumphs at the AFC Nations Cup, in 2000 and 2004, results which automatically qualified the Land of the Rising Sun for the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2001 and 2005. Kawaguchi also played at the Olympic Football Tournament at Atlanta 1996. The shot-stopper’s club career never reached similar heights, but he did taste European football with English side Portsmouth and Danish outfit Nordsjaelland, before returning home to represent Jubilo Iwata, the club whose books he was on when he decided to hang up his boots.
Kalusha Bwalya (49) is one of the most famous figures in the history of Zambian football, a status earned by his performances on the pitch as well as his accomplishments off it. Bwalya was capped 147 times by his nation, scoring an astonishing 100 goals during that period. He wore the captain’s armband at the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988, and took part in five Africa Cup of Nations competitions in a row, scoring nine goals in 20 matches and notably finishing top scorer at the 1996 tournament. His exceptional all-round displays saw him named African Footballer of the Year in 1988. The free-scoring forward had a somewhat nomadic domestic career, defending the colours of clubs dotted all over the world. While with Cercle Bruges, he was the Belgian League’s leading goalscorer for two consecutive seasons. Bwalya then signed for PSV Eindhoven, where he won two league championships, a Dutch Cup and a Dutch Super Cup. He then pulled on the jersey of numerous Mexican clubs, as well as of Al Wahda in the UAE. A few years after taking his retirement from the game, he was elected President of the Zambian FA, laying the groundwork for the rejuvenation of football in his country, which culminated in the Chipolopolo’s historic success at the Cup of Nations earlier this year.
Jorginho (48) is best remembered for his fine performances on the right hand side of the defence of a victorious Brazil XI during the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA. He also represented A Seleção at Seoul 1988, where he won a silver medal, and lifted the Copa America in 1989. Jorginho played for some of Brazil’s most high-profile clubs, such as Flamengo, Sao Paolo, Vasco da Gama and Fluminense. The defender also established himself in the Bundesliga, first at Bayer Leverkusen and then at Bayern Munich. After a career swansong at Kashima Antlers in Japan, he became assistant coach of the Brazilian national team, helping guide his compatriots to success at the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, as well as overseeing their qualification to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
Just Fontaine (79) will forever be connected in French fans’ minds with the 13 goals he recorded for France at Sweden 1958, a total that remains the highest scored by an individual player at a single FIFA World Cup tournament. Fontaine started out with Casablanca in Morocco, the country of his birth, where he twice won the league title. The prolific marksman moved to Nice and then Reims, with whom he secured two national championships and finished top scorer in the league, twice, and in the European Cup. Sadly, an unfortunate injury forced the French international into retirement in his late twenties.