World Football

Happy Birthday to you!

Fernando Hierro signs a painting during a media event
© Getty Images

In our regular Sunday feature, presents you with some of the biggest names in football who will be celebrating their birthdays over the coming week.

17. Shinji Kagawa(24) is not only one of the Japanese national team’s most talented players, but he has also become a veritable ambassador for Asian football. He rose to prominence at Borussia Dortmund, earning winners’ medals in the last two Bundesliga campaigns and last year’s DFB-Pokal. The attacking midfielder’s form for *Die Schwarzgelben *persuaded Manchester United to come calling, and he already appears to be well on his way to becoming a firm favourite with the Old Trafford faithful. At international level, he appeared at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, at the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing, and in the senior side’s qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Kagawa subsequently helped the Samurai Blue to lift the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, although his joy was tempered somewhat by an injury that ruled him out of the continental final. He is currently involved in Japan’s qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014, one which has been negotiated in impressive fashion so far by the Land of the Rising Sun.

18. Mauro Zarate(26) demonstrated his full array of attacking skills by helping Argentina to retain the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2007. The pacey forward started out at Velez Sarsfield, where he secured the Argentinian League title. After a brief spell with Qatari powerhouses Al Sadd, he was sent on loan to Birmingham City and then to Lazio, where he hoisted the Italian Cup and Italian Super Cup. Having taken up the option to make the deal permanent, the Biancocelesti then loaned Zarate out themselves in 2011, this time to Inter Milan. The Argentinian returned to Rome in the run-up to the 2012/13 season.

19. Alessandro Nesta(37) is one of the best defenders to have plied his trade in Italian football over the past two decades, developing into a key player for first Lazio and then AC Milan. He initially enjoyed nine productive seasons with the Rome-based club, claiming an Italian League title, two Italian Cups, two Italian Super Cups, a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and a UEFA Super Cup, as well as twice finishing second in Serie A and losing out in the UEFA Cup final of 1998. A high-profile transfer to I Rossoneri saw the commanding centre-back further bolster his reputation, his fine performances contributing to many of the club’s greatest success during that period, including two league championships, an Italian Cup, two Italian Super Cups, two UEFA Champions League titles, two UEFA Super Cups and a FIFA Club World Cup. Ten campaigns in Lombardy later, he opted for a completely new experience, signing for MLS side Montreal Impact at the beginning of this current season. On the international stage, Nesta was a lynchpin of Italy’s defence for the best part of a decade, helping his nation to reach the final of UEFA EURO 2000 and hold aloft the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. He also participated in La Nazionale’s less successful campaigns at France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002, as well as at EURO 2004. Earlier in his career, he was part of the Italian squad that emerged triumphant at the 1996 UEFA European U-21 Championship.

20. Rory Fallon(31) can look back with pride at having scored what many observers consider to be the most important goal in New Zealand’s football history, a powerful header versus Bahrain that sent the All Whites to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, 28 years after their last appearance at the tournament at Spain 1982. The imposing striker went on to play in all three group-stage matches in South Africa, as New Zealand became one of the few sides to be eliminated from FIFA’s flagship competition without losing a game. Fallon has spent his entire club career in Great Britain, starting off at Barnsley in 1999. Since then, he has played for Swansea City, Shrewsbury Town, Ipswich Town, Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle and Yeovil Town, and moved north two years ago to represent Scottish outfit Aberdeen.

21. Ronald Koeman(50) is regarded as one of the greatest players of his era, and is fondly remembered by Barcelona fans for the outstanding free kick against Sampdoria at Wembley Stadium that delivered European Cup glory to the Catalans for the very first time. Renowned for his powerful shots, he finished joint top scorer in the competition during season 1993/94 – a remarkable achievement for a defender. He could not, however, prevent *Barça *from losing out to AC Milan in that year’s final. A mainstay in the Netherlands’ rearguard for many years, Koeman competed in two FIFA World Cups (Italy 1990 and USA 1994) and helped his country to capture their first-ever UEFA European Championship in 1988. The Dutch centre-back turned professional at Groningen, before making a name for himself at Ajax, where he won the Eredivisie title and national cup. Transferred to PSV Eindhoven, he added three Dutch Championships, two Dutch Cups and a European Cup to his footballing CV. A subsequent move to Barcelona – with whom he landed four Liga titles, the Copa del Rey, two Spanish Super Cups, the aforementioned European Cup, and the UEFA Super Cup – took his career onto a new level. One last challenge awaited the two-time Dutch Footballer of the Year, as he returned home to play for Feyenoord, prior to hanging up his boots and embarking on a coaching career. He has since taken the reins at Vitesse Arnhem, Ajax, PSV, AZ Alkmaar, Benfica and Valencia, and is presently in charge of Feyenoord.

22. Aldo Duscher(34) was part of the Argentina XI that emerged victorious at the 1995 FIFA U-17 World Cup and 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and was later capped for the senior team during their qualifying campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. The solid defensive midfielder has played for a number of top-flight clubs on two different continents, including Newell's Old Boys in Argentina, Portuguese heavyweights Sporting Lisbon and Spanish outfit Deportivo La Coruna, with whom he won the Spanish Cup and Spanish Super Cup. Spells at Racing Santander, Sevilla – a period that included a Copa del Rey success – and Espanyol followed, before Duscher returned to South America to defend the colours of Ecuadorian giants Barcelona. At the beginning of this current season, he put pen to paper with Cypriot side Enosis Neon Paralimni.

23. Fernando Hierro(45) was an assertive presence at the back for Spain and Real Madrid for well over a decade. He appeared at no fewer than three FIFA World Cups (USA 1994, France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002), demonstrating his knack for contributing important goals by netting five times in twelve encounters. He also represented La Roja at the European Championships of 1996 and 2000. The dependable defender began his career at Valladolid, but it was at Real Madrid that he became more widely known, securing five Liga titles, the Copa del Rey, four Spanish Super Cups, three UEFA Champions League crowns, the UEFA Super Cup and two Intercontinental Cups. After 14 terms with *Los Merengues, *he joined Qatari team Al Rayyan, lifting the Emir of Qatar Cup later that campaign. Hierro’s next stop-off was in England, where he donned the jersey of Bolton Wanderers for one final season.

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