We don’t think we’re exaggerating when we say this: The World Cup is kind of the best thing ever. There’s the joy, the tears, the previous-winners-getting-knocked-out-by-South Korea-in the-first-round moments. Was there anyone on earth who didn’t feel a twinge of emotion when Panama scored their first ever World Cup goal? Even in a 6-1 drubbing by England? We doubt it.
But within these sweeping moments of national elation and/or angst, there are personal histories just as inspiring (and improbable) as the numbers on the scoreboard. Here are a handful of World Cup players who overcame huge challenges on their way to football star status
Xherdan Shaqiri plays for Stoke City in the Championship (the club was relegated from the Premiership last season. The bullish winger with a fearsome left foot has starred for Switzerland at this World Cup, scoring a notable winner against Serbia on their way to the last 16. He is also a Muslim of Kosovan origin, who fled to Switzerland in 1992 due to the conflict in the Balkan region. From refugee to World Cup hero – a story that defines the power of sport.
Nigeria sadly crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage, but that doesn’t diminish Victor Moses’ quality as a player or resilience as a person. The Chelsea winger was born in Lagos, Nigeria. At age 11, he experienced an unimaginable tragedy. His parents were killed in a religious riot. Thanks to relatives and friends, he made it to the UK to seek asylum, where he overcame the upheaval of his childhood to excel on the football pitch. Moses joined Crystal Palace’s academy as a teen, making his first team debut at age 16. Following a sting at Wigan, he was snapped up by Chelsea, who have nurtured him into the elite talent he is today. Along with being a great footballer, Moses is a testament to the human spirit.
What can we say about Mo Salah that hasn’t already been written. Or tweeted. Or screamed from the streets of Cairo. He’s a global superstar with Messi-levels of talent. He’s the hero who brought Egypt back to the World Cup. He carried the weight of an entire nation on his (slightly damaged) shoulders, and while Egypt couldn’t make it out of their group, his legacy as one of the Best In The World has been established. Away from the pitch, he is active in regeneration projects in his hometown of Nagrig, where 65% of the population live in poverty.
He also inspired Liverpool fans to chant “If he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too”, which is an achievement without compare tbh.