© Getty Images
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.
Ahmed El Kass (47) is highly regarded in Egypt, due to his being part of the team that qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ in 1990, an achievement that reacquainted the North African nation with the prestigious event after a 56-year absence. He also took part in three consecutive CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, from 1992 onwards. The forward began his career at Alexandria-based outfit El Olympi, where he finished top scorer in the league three years running. He then achieved a childhood dream by signing for Cairo giants Zamalek, where he lifted the 1996 African Cup of Champions Clubs (now CAF Champions League) and the 1997 CAF Super Cup. El Kass belongs to an elite group of footballers who have scored more than 100 goals in the Egyptian top flight.
Rafael (22) has managed to establish himself among the plethora of household names at Manchester United at a relatively young age. After having won the South American U-17 Championship and taken part in the FIFA U-17 World Cup with Brazil in 2007, he left Fluminense for Old Trafford. The right-back has since enjoyed considerable success with the Red Devils, picking up winners’ medals in the Premier League (twice), League Cup, Community Shield (twice) and the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil just two years away, he now has his sights set on gaining a regular place in the senior national side.
Ludovic Giuly (36) participated in France’s victory at the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup, but injury deprived him of the opportunity of playing at the UEFA European Championship in 2004, and he was subsequently omitted from Les Bleus’ squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. His most memorable performances therefore came at club level. After an impressive start to his footballing career at Lyon, the skilful playmaker showed the full range of his talents at Monaco, inspiring his side to claim the league title and the French League Cup, and to reach the UEFA Champions League final. Giuly then moved to Barcelona, with whom he won two La Liga crowns, two Spanish Super Cups and a Champions League title. He had a fruitful spell at Roma, during which he lifted the Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup, before returning to France to turn out for Paris Saint-Germain. The highlight of his time in the French capital was a Coupe de Francetriumph in 2010. After three seasons with PSG, he rejoined current club Monaco.
Ruben Baraja (37), one of the best midfielders to come out of Spain in recent times, appeared at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Japan/Korea and EURO 2004 with La Roja. He turned professional at Valladolid, before moving to Atletico Madrid and then Valencia. His time withLos Che coincided with a highly successful period for the club, one in which they secured two Spanish championships, a Spanish Super Cup, a UEFA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup. The tough-tackling midfield man was also unfortunate to finish on the losing side of Valencia’s tight 2001 Champions League final defeat by Bayern Munich. Ten years after arriving at Estadio Mestalla, he decided to hang up his boots in 2010.
Antonio Cassano (30) has had more than his fair share of ups and downs over the past year. Just a few months ago, illness almost forced him to retire from the game, but he has since shown tremendous resolve to regain his health and his place in Italy’s starting line-up. The talented front man’s recovery was so comprehensive that he became a key factor in La Nazionale’s recent run to the final of EURO 2012, impressing fans of all nations with his individual performances. He first made himself known to the wider football public by leaving Bari to sign for Roma, with whom he hoisted the Italian Super Cup. Following a stint at Real Madrid, where he obtained a league winners’ medal, he returned to Italy to defend the colours of Sampdoria. In January 2011 he was transferred to AC Milan, where Serie A and Super Cup success soon followed.
Jonathan Mensah (22) played a crucial role in Ghana’s historic victory at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009, a tournament for which the young African side had qualified by winning the U-20 African Youth Championship earlier that same year. In 2010, the defender helped the Black Stars’ senior team to reach the final of the Cup of Nations in Angola and the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Mensah started out at Ghanaian outfit Ashanti Gold, before putting pen to paper with South African side Free State Stars. After a season with Granada, he joined Evian of Ligue 1 in 2011.
Samir Handanovic (28) took part in Slovenia’s successful qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010, which resulted in the country’s second-ever appearance at the FIFA World Cup. During the tournament proper, the goalkeeper and his team-mates proved that they had certainly not come to make up the numbers, registering a win, draw and a loss during the group stage. At club level, Handanovic kicked off his domestic career in Slovenia with Domzale, where he caught the eye of Udinese scouts. In order to gain first-team experience, he was then loaned out from the northern Italian club to Treviso, Lazio and Rimini. Upon returning to IZebrette, he established himself as first-choice goalkeeper, a role he would fulfil for five seasons before being acquired by Inter Milan this year. On an individual level, Handanovic was named Slovenian Footballer of the Year in 2009 and 2011.