Football's unsung heroes
Their names are Fons Leweck, Ngemba Evans Obi and Rachid Rouga. They are by no means super stars and certainly do not earn millions, but they were nevertheless some of this year's heroes. They will long remember the footballing year that was 2008, and FIFA.com would like to play its part in making sure that fans spare more than just a passing thought for these unsung heroes.
Fons Leweck: Cometh the hour, cometh the man
"After the final whistle went it was an extraordinary feeling, the fact that we'd won. We knew we'd created a sensation and we were just over the moon. As soon as the match was over, my first thought was for my family who were no doubt at home celebrating the result. As a Luxembourger, I was so proud to achieve something in my insignificant little football career, knowing that no-one could ever take this moment away from me and that I would always have it to look back on when things get tough football-wise. Winning away from home in front of a crowd like that is probably the most wonderful experience that I have ever had," said a still visibly delighted Leweck to FIFA.com, shortly after Luxembourg's historic 2-1 away win over Switzerland in the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The 27-year-old, who plies his trade for FC Etzella Ettelbruck, was the man chiefly responsible for the principality recording its finest ever result, scoring past Diego Benaglio in the Swiss goal with just three minutes left on the clock. A mere 12 months earlier, Leweck had written an earlier page of Luxembourg football history by scoring the winner in the fifth minute of time added on to record a 1-0 victory over Belarus in a UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier.
From local leagues to national hero
The story reads like a Hollywood script. 18 November 2008 is a date that Ngemba Evans Obi will not forget in a hurry. And if you have never heard of the lad, let FIFA.com tell you his incredible tale...
It was on this day that the 23-year-old SV Heimstetten II goalkeeper (in the regional leagues, some nine levels below the Bundesliga) was first called upon by his country, Nigeria. Regular keepers Vincent Enyeama, Dele Aiyenugba and Greg Etafia were all unable to obtain visas for the match in Colombia, making Obi the first reserve should anything happen to first choice goalie Austin Ejide. It was not enough to see him make his international debut over in South America, but who knows, maybe Obi will get his big chance next year, with Nigeria beginning the next round of their FIFA World Cup qualifying at the end of March.
Benin call on Rachid Rouga
Rachid Rouga's story is a similar one. A few years ago, the boy from Benin moved to Rennes where he played in the club's youth set-up. Ligue 1 and a professional contract were his targets, but he never quite managed to demonstrate the skills required to convince the coaching staff of his abilities. What Rouga did have, however, was pride and ambition, and he was determined to stay in Brittany, playing for the club's amateur team.
German Reinhard Fabisch was managing Benin at the time, and having been given a tip-off contacted Rouga in December 2007. "I was invited to train with the team in Tunisia," recalls Rouga in an interview, "and the coach was very pleased with me."
An amateur at the CAF
His good showing at the training camp was enough to win him a spot in the Benin squad for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. "There was an incredible atmosphere before, during and after the games," said Rouga of the tournament in Ghana. "Being there with the other players was a great experience. The stadiums were always sold-out and more than 6,000 came from Benin to cheer us on."
Was it really such a great experience for Rouga once Benin went out at the first hurdle, having lost their three group matches? "I have so much more confidence now and I've learnt that you can't afford to make any mistakes and always have to concentrate 100 per cent," said Rouga, who is currently playing for FC Flers in the French sixth division.
Who are your footballing heroes of 2008? Which player or which team caught your imagination this year? Write in and have your say!