World Cup fever will be consuming the planet for the next month. As you learn the stories of the hundreds of athletes from nearly three dozen countries, hear them talk about their faith in their own words.
Alisson Becker, Goalkeeper (Brazil)
One of several players on Brazil’s national team who are open about their Christian faith, Alisson Becker took to social media to praise God for the opportunity to play in his first World Cup: “Very happy to receive the opportunity to defend my country in a world cup! Realization of a dream!!!!...Glory to God!!” The 25-year-old Roma star recently advised would-be professional goalkeepers that faith plays an important role in success. "If you want to be a great keeper, you need to work very hard. That’s what I do. You need to be very focused on football and I think faith is important too,” he said. “If you believe in God, you know you have to do your best on the pitch and put love into everything you do in life."
Edinson Cavani, Forward (Uruguay)
In 2014, Edinson Cavani’s national teammate Luis Suárez earned international notoriety for biting a competitor in a World Cup match. That level of aggression isn’t Cavani’s style. Playing in his third World Cup, the 31-year-old Paris Saint-Germain favorite has been outspoken about the role that Jesus plays in his life, even busting out one of those “I belong to Jesus” T-shirts. Several years ago, Cavani was asked whether he considered himself an athlete of Christ. "No, no, no. I am an athlete for Christ,” he said. "That's why I play for Him, to give Him glory, to thank Him for giving me the ability to play football … for giving me that divine gift that I am trying to manage more and more.”
Radamel Falcao, Forward (Colombia)
When his country finally made the World Cup in 2014 after 16 years, Radamel Falcao was injured. This time, Falcao, Colombia’s all-time scorer, is healthy and ready for the tournament. The current captain of Ligue 1 club AS Monaco, Falcao has been known to lift his jersey after he scores, revealing a T-shirt that says “Con Jesus nunca estara solo" (With Jesus you'll never be alone). He’s also developed a reputation for hounding his teammates to read the Bible with him and attend church services. Falcao frequently posts on social media about his faith. Earlier this year, he reminded his nearly 17 million Twitter followers, “Jesus is our hope. He did it all for you. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe (...) you will be saved.”
Odion Ighalo, Forward (Nigeria)
Even before he qualified for his first World Cup, Odion Ighalo knew he had much to be grateful for. Ighalo, 28, grew up with little access to clean water, food, and electricity, in one of the poorest parts of Lagos. Now playing for Changchun Yatai in China, he regularly sends a portion of his salary back to his family, dreams of opening an orphanage, and frequently thanks God for his life and soccer career on his social media accounts. “We didn’t always have what we wanted or needed, we had to struggle,” he told The Guardian. “It was difficult to live, difficult to eat and that is why I thank God when I look where I am now.”
Keylor Navas, Goalkeeper (Costa Rica)
In 2014, Costa Rica surprised the world by making it to the quarterfinals. One of the key reasons for the team’s success was Keylor Navas, the now 31-year-old goalkeeper. For Navas, who also plays for Real Madrid, his faith is one of the fundamentals of his life. “My faith is the most important thing. I believe that, the moment I had a very personal relationship with God and I really knew what his Word said, it was not about religion. It was about knowing that what the Bible tells us is what He has left us,” he said in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “It changed my life. It filled the void in my heart. That is why I am so grateful.”
Luis Tejada, Forward (Panama)
He’s known affectionately as the Matador, the Panamanian, and Golden Tooth. He’s the highest scorer in Panamanian soccer history (43 goals). Now retirement is finally in view. Luis Tejada’s homeland qualified for the World Cup this year, and it’s everything he ever wanted. Tejada, who currently plays for Sport Boys of the Peruvian Primera División, grew up in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Panama City and credits soccer and God with saving his life. “I don’t know what would have become of me if I hadn’t become a footballer,” he told The Guardian. “I don’t know if I would be dead, if I would have been in a gang, or if I would have ended up doing some good. For this reason, I thank God that he grabbed me in time and took control of me.”
Morgan Lee is associate digital media producer at Christianity Today.