There’s simply no doubt the FIFA World Cup remains the greatest stage in football. That’s why you see all footballing nations gearing up heavily whenever the tournament is around the corner. From the likes of Brazil, Germany, and Uruguay to the likes of Argentina, Italy, and Spain, many nations have cemented their places in the history of the competition.
Likewise, we have footballers who also managed to bag some historic records for themselves. While history often favors veteran superstars, there are also a number of players who attained spectacular heights in the game at a very young age.
Below, we present to you a list of the top 10 youngest debutants in World Cup history. Some are the popular footballers you already know while you will also find some who are not very familiar, especially to young football fans. They are as follows:
#10. Christian Eriksen
Denmark superstar, Christian Eriksen has grown to become one of the finest midfielders in the Premier League at the moment. He has been a vital figure for Tottenham Hotspur since he switched to White Hart Lane five years ago.
Apart from his exploits at the club level, the playmaker has also forged a respectable career for himself at the international stage. Christian Eriksen is one of the youngest players to ever feature in the FIFA World Cup. His debut in the prestigious tournament came up during the 2010 edition in South Africa.
He was just 18 years and 4 months old when he was brought on for the first time to replace Thomas Kahlenberg late in Denmark’s 2-0 group defeat to the Netherlands. Following that, he has now recorded over 100 senior appearances for his nation. He fired Denmark into the Round of 16 of the tournament last year before they succumbed to eventual winners, Croatia.
#9. Manuel Rosas
There are many Mexican players who have cemented their places in the history books, with their memorable records and achievements. Manuel Rosas is also one of them. Well, he might not be recognized many soccer lovers of this decade.
Famous with the nickname Chaqueta, Manuel Rosas became the first player in World Cup history to score a goal from a penalty kick. He did that against Argentina in 1930, while also becoming the youngest player to net at the finals.
Meanwhile, he made his debut against France in the opening group game of the tournament at the age of 18 years, 2 months, and 26 days. He would later move forward to establish himself among the historic football figures for the Mexican national team. After playing football at the top level for several years, he eventually died on February 20, 1989; at 81 years old and will be remembered for a long time in the history of the game.
#8. Carvalho Leite
There are many players named Carvalho who have had major impacts on the beautiful game but this particular one stands out for one reason: he ranks among the youngest players to ever step on the football pitch in a FIFA World Cup match.
During the 1930 World Cup, Brazil was placed alongside Yugoslavia and Bolivia in Group Two and conceded top spot to the latter, eventually being knocked out of the tournament after just two matches and shocking many people.
In the second game, which was a 4-0 victory over Bolivia, a young Carvalho Leite made his debut at the competition; just 18 years and 25 days old, breaking a number of records in the process and would eventually be the final surviving player from the 1930 Brazil team when he died in 2004 at the age of 92.
#7. Rigobert Song
One of the greatest African players of all-time, Cameroon legend, Rigobert Song also finds himself on this list. The midfielder enjoyed a spectacular career during his playing days and his achievements both at the club and international levels are well-documented.
Song has an extensive and highly successful relationship with international football. Apart from winning a number of major trophies with The Indomitable Lions including the African Cup of Nations in both 2000 and 2002, he also represented the nations in four World Cups, namely 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2010 editions.
He had his debut appearance in the prestigious tournament when he was just 17 years, 11 months and 18 days old. That came up during Cameroon’s 2-2 draw with Sweden on June 19, 1994 – although he was sent off in the following game against Brazil, and he became the youngest player ever to do so in the history of the competition.
#6. Bartholomew Ogbeche
While the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan was one to forget for the Nigerian Super Eagles, it serves as one that Bartholomew Ogbeche will always remember in his life. Not least, not less because he was able to write his name in the history books.
At just 17 years old, the youngster, then at Paris Saint-Germain was deployed in two of the three Super Eagles’ games in the group stage. Though, he couldn’t help Nigeria to extend their stay in the tournament as they were eventually disqualified after failing in their battle for survival in the group phase.
Ogbeche reached the end of the road quickly retiring from international football after just two years with a paltry 11 senior appearances for the African giants. Nevertheless, whenever the youngest World Cup debutants are being explored, his name will keep surfacing until someone manages to overthrow him from the list.
#5. Pele do Nascimento
Soccer will be different today without players like Pele and Diego Maradona. These are the kind of names that made the World Cup a must-watch for many fans around the globe during their times. Brazil remains the most successful country in the tournament with 5 trophies. However, they owe a lot of that success to Pele, who helped the nation claim three of them in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
The Brazilian magician was the youngest World Cup debutant (17 Years, 233 Days) until when Norman Whiteside broke the record in 1982 aged only 17 years and 41 days. However, none of the players who broke his record managed to claim the coveted trophy.
Pele was the youngest player to score a hat-trick after finding the back of the net thrice during Brazil’s 5-2 win over France, and would as well later concurrently become the youngest footballer to feature in, score, and win a World Cup final, as he netted a spectacular brace to secure the trophy for the Selecao. The now 77-year-old still holds the record for the most goals scored for the Brazilian national team with 77 in 92 appearances.
#4. Salomon Olembe
Ex-Cameroon and Olympique Marseille attacker, Salomon Olembe is also ranked among the youngest players to ever participate in the World Cup game. It was 1998 when Cameroon faced Austria in a match that finished 1-1 that he featured in the prestigious tournament for the first time.
Olembe made his debut at the 17 years, 6 months, and 3 days, and went on to bag 64 caps for his national team. He started his professional career in the French league with Nantes in 1997 and was selected as part of Cameroon’s squad for the World Cup in France the subsequent year.
During his 13 years as a professional footballer, Olembe had brief spells in England, Turkey, and Greece while he spent most of his career in Ligue 1. He retired from the game in 2010 but had created a unique record at such a tender age and he has gone down in soccer history as the fourth-youngest player to feature in a World Cup match.
#3. Femi Opabunmi
Femi Opabunmi’s had a brief international career with Nigeria, but he was part of the 2002 World Cup squad that traveled to Asia. Opabunmi played in Nigeria’s final group stage game, a 0-0 draw against England at the age of 17 years, 3 months, and 9 days to become one of the youngest debutants in World Cup history.
That particular game ended in an embarrassing goalless draw and Nigeria was sent packing out of the competition at the group stage. Following that appearance, Opabunmi never made it into the national team setup again in his career.
He recorded just 3 appearances to his name for the country and retired from the sport after a gruesome eye injury cut short his career.No one knows how far he could have gone or what he could have achieved had he spent some more time in the national team.
#2. Samuel Eto’o
Cameroon legend and numerous time African footballer of the year winner, Samuel Eto’o made his World Cup debut in 1998 during a 3-0 loss to Italy at a tender age of just 17 years, 3 months, and 7 days. The striker kicked off his football career in Spain with Real Madrid in 1997 and was introduced into the Cameroon squad in 1998 ahead of the World Cup in France.
Eto’o went on to win a lot of trophies in his career. Following his stint in Spain with Real Madrid, Mallorca and Barcelona at the beginning of his career, the Cameroonian moved to Inter Milan before moving to the Premier League where he represented Chelsea and Everton.
A tremendously gifted striker with an incredible ability to find the back of the net almost from any angle, the Barca legend remains the second-youngest player to debut in the Champions League. He made it into four World Cup squads and is one of just three African players to do so in history.
#1. Norman Whiteside
Norman Whiteside broke Pele’s record to become the youngest player to debut at the World Cup. He had his first appearance at the prestigious stage in Northern Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Yugoslavia during the 1982 edition that was held in Spain.
Northern Ireland then played out a draw with Honduras before beating the hosts, Spain to finish at the top of Group Five. Although they were knocked out in the following round, Whiteside played all five of his side’s games in the tournament.
Whiteside was chosen as part of the national team squad for the World Cup, due to some brilliant performances for his club, Manchester United as a 17-year-old teen. He made an instant impact for The Red Devils and went on to spend seven seasons at the club which lasted till 1989. He later moved to Everton where he spent two years before finally deciding to call time on his career.