In our regular Sunday feature, FIFA.com presents you with some of the biggest names in football who will be celebrating their birthdays over the coming week.
21. Isco (21) is one of the rising stars of Spanish and European football. His potential became clear very early on in his career, as his fine performances helped his nation secure third place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2009. Two years later, the attacking midfielder was part of the Spanish XI that reached the quarter-finals of the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia, where La Roja were eliminated by eventual winners Brazil. Last year, he played a key role in propelling Spain to the Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012, scoring six goals during the qualifying campaign, and he now hopes to establish himself in Vicente del Bosque’s all-conquering senior side. Isco came through the ranks at Valencia, before signing for Malaga, with whom he qualified for the UEFA Champions League last season. He then took part in the club’s debut run to the quarter-finals of the tournament, where they recently lost out to Dortmund. Last year, the European press pinpointed the precocious Spaniard as the young player to have recorded the most impressive campaign, awarding him the prestigious Golden Boy award for his efforts.
22. John Obi Mikel (26) made a name for himself while still a teenager by excelling for Nigeria at the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Cup and 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he and his team-mates lost to Argentina in the final. His performances earned him a second-placed finish in the voting for the adidas Golden Ball award, behind a burgeoning Lionel Messi. At the beginning of the year, he led the Nigerian senior team to a third CAF Africa Cup of Nations crown in South Africa, in what was his fourth appearance at the continental contest. The African midfielder started out in his homeland at Plateau United, prior to joining Chelsea by way of Norwegian outfit Lyn. Obi Mikel has picked up winners’ medals in the UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, FA Cup (four times), English League Cup and Community Shield during his time at Stamford Bridge, but had to watch from the substitutes’ bench as the Blues failed to emerge victorious from the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup final in December. He was named Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008, and African Young Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006.
23. Stephanie Houghton (25) is one of the England national team’s key players, having played for her country at every possible youth category – including at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008 – before gaining promotion to the senior side. The versatile performer missed out on the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007™ but was selected for Germany 2011. She also represented Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympic Games, but could not prevent the host nation from being eliminated at the quarter-final stage. At club level, she rose to prominence at Sunderland, where she won the Women's Premier League Northern Division. A transfer to Leeds United led to success in the Women’s Premier League Cup, but it was her subsequent move to Arsenal, with whom she has since lifted four national trophies, that truly marked a turning point in her career.
24. Diego Placente (36) has, over the course of his career, established himself as one of the top left-backs in the game. After hoisting the 1997 FIFA U-20 World Cup with Argentina in Malaysia, he competed at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and lost in the final of the 2004 Copa America and the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup. The South American defender turned professional with Argentinos Juniors, before joining River Plate, where his form attracted the attention of Bayer Leverkusen. His time at Die Werkself was marked by a series of near misses, as his team finished runners-up in the Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Champions League. Two subsequent seasons at Celta Vigo were followed by a spell with Argentinian club San Lorenzo. Placente finally got his hands on silverware at Bordeaux, where he secured the Ligue 1 title, French League Cup and Trophée des champions. A second return to South America saw him star for San Lorenzo again and for Nacional in Uruguay, before bringing the curtain down on his career with his first club, Argentinos Juniors.
25. Thomas Strunz (45) is regarded as one of the best German midfield men of the 1990s, a status that justified his inclusion in his country’s squads for the 1994 FIFA World Cup and for UEFA EURO 1996, where Die Nationalmannschaft captured their third continental crown. The combative defensive midfielder began his career at Duisburg, where his displays piqued the interest of Bayern Munich, with whom he landed five German League titles, two German Cups, four German League Cups and a UEFA Cup. Strunz also came close to holding aloft the Champions League trophy in 1999, but was denied by Manchester United’s memorable late finish at Camp Nou.
26. Sara Thunebro (34) was instrumental in Sweden attaining third place at Germany 2011, where she played in all of her nation’s matches. She also appeared at China 2007, and took part in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments of 2008 and 2012. A keen football fan from a very young age, the composed defender played at youth level for Viljan, before moving to Djurgardens, where she won two Swedish Championships and two Swedish Cups, as well as appearing in an ultimately unsuccessful UEFA Women’s Champions League final versus Turbine Potsdam. During this period, Thunebro was twice named Swedish Defender of the Year. A transfer to FFC Frankfurt saw her lift the German Cup but lose another Champions League final. Last month, she returned to Sweden in order to commit herself to Tyreso.
27. Christian Lara (33) helped Ecuador to record the greatest performance in the nation's footballing history at Germany 2006, when La Tri reached the Round of 16. In addition, the attacking midfielder participated in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2002. Domestically, he enjoyed initial success with El Nacional, triumphing in the Ecuadorian League. Following a brief stint with Qatari outfit Al Wakrah, he returned home to defend the colours of Liga de Quito, where he added two further league titles, a Copa Libertadores and two Recopa Sudamericana trophies to his footballing CV. Lara then turned out for Guayaquil-based Barcelona and Colombian outfits Deportivo Pereira and Real Cartagena. He recently put pen to paper with Ecuadorian side Manta.