Youngest Players to Play in the FIFA World Cup

Looking back at the history of the FIFA World Cup, there have been many amazing records set and broken. But one record that still stands today is the youngest player to play in the FIFA World Cup.

Who are these young players? And what was it like for them to step onto the biggest stage in world soccer? Read on to find out!

Norman Whiteside (Northern Ireland, 17 years and 40 days)

Norman Whiteside made headlines in 1982 when he became the youngest player to play at a FIFA World Cup tournament in the World Cup history.\

youngest player to play in fifa world cup
Norman WHITESIDE of Northern Ireland and Manuel AMOROS of France during the second stage of the 1982 FIFA World Cup match between France and Northern Ireland, at Stadium Vicente Calderon, Madrid, Spain on 4 July 1982 ( Photo by Michel Barrault / Onze / Icon Sport )

At only 17 years and 40 days old, Whiteside made his debut in a match against Yugoslavia, and though the outcome was scoreless, it didn’t keep him from making his mark in history.

He became the youngest player to ever receive a yellow card during a FIFA soccer World Cup tournament.

Although his international play was cut short due to chronic injuries, Whiteside managed 38 appearances for Northern Ireland, contributing nine goals and establishing himself as one of their most revered players of all time.

His story is an inspiring reminder that age is no barrier when determination, skill and passion are at hand. Norman Whiteside showed us that anything is possible – even Olympic glory – if we believe in ourselves and set our sights on success.

Thanks to Norman’s legacy, Northern Ireland’s youth have taken him as an example of what can be achieved with grit and determination– something that will stand the test of time.

Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon, 17 years and 98 days)

Samuel Eto’o made sporting history in 1998 when his tenacious talent earned him a place in the Cameroonian squad for the Men’s soccer World Cup, making him only the second youngest player ever to do so.

youngest player to play in fifa world cup
Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon during the World Cup match between Italy and Cameroon on 17th june 1998 in Montpellier
Photo : PA Images / Icon Sport

The group stage game against Italy saw him make his debut, and he certainly made an impression despite the 3-0 defeat – all observers could recognize his masterful control, energy, and technical ability from that day onward.

Samuel Eto’o was an invaluable asset to his nation during four World Cup tournaments, scoring 56 goals and demonstrating pride with every match he played.

His career included spells at some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs and cemented him as one of football’s all-time greats.

In 2014 he decided to retire from international duty, allowing younger generations to pick up where he left off and take Cameroon to more success in World Football competitions.

Years may have passed since that debut game against Italy, but Samuel Eto’o will forever remain in footballing folklore as one of the game’s most promising stars.

Indeed, a remarkable feat for someone who began their career at such a young age!

Femi Opabunmi (Nigeria, 17 years, 100 days)

At just 17 years old, Femi Opabunmi was already making a name for himself in soccer. After finishing as the second leading scorer in the FIFA U-17 World Championships in 2001, he was called up to the senior national team for Nigeria the following year.

youngest player to play in fifa world cup
Femi OPABUNMI (NIGERIA) during the 2002 FIFA World Cup match between Nigeria and England on June 12, 2002 in Nagai Stadium, Japan. (photo by Eric Renard / Onze / Icon Sport)

Opabunmi made his World Cup debut against England in 2002, becoming the youngest player to represent Nigeria in a World Cup match. Sadly, that would also be his last World Cup appearance.

Four years later, Opabunmi was forced to retire from soccer after losing sight in his right eye due to glaucoma. Though his career was cut short, Opabunmi’s accomplishments on the field are still remembered by soccer fans worldwide.


The FIFA World Cup is the world’s most prestigious and popular soccer tournament. Every four years, countries from all over the globe compete for the ultimate prize. The competition is fierce and only gets better with each year.

Some of the best players in history have graced the fields during this time. Among them are some surprisingly young talents who made appearances far before their time. We looked at some of the youngest players to play in the FIFA World Cup and their accomplishments at such young ages.