Norman Whiteside, Northern Ireland – 17 years and 40 days
Northern Ireland Norman Whiteside is the youngest footballer to have played at a FIFA World Cup. The striker was 17 years and 40 days old when he made his World Cup debut against Yugoslavia in 1982.
Norman Whiteside failed to become the youngest footballer to score at the FIFA World Cup as the game ended in a goalless draw. However, the Manchester United striker received a caution that made him a caution youngest player to receive a yellow card at a FIFA World Cup.
Whiteside’s career was marred by injuries and he won his last cap aged 26. He has played in 38 international matches, scoring nine goals for Northern Ireland.
Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon – 17 years and 98 days
Cameroon’s all-time top scorer Samuel Eto’o is the second youngest to bow in the men’s World Cup at the age of 17 years and 98 days. He made his debut in Cameroon’s 3-0 defeat by Italy in the group stage of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France.
Samuel Eto’o represented Cameroon at four FIFA World Cups and scored 56 international goals in 116 internationals. In 2014 he retired.
Femi Opabunmi, Nigeria – 17 years, 100 days
Femi Opabunmi was the second-highest goalscorer at the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Cup, earning him a call to the senior Nigeria team the following year.
The Nigerian winger was 17 years and 100 days old when he made his World Cup debut against England in 2002. However, Femi Opabunmi never played for Nigeria again. He retired four years later after glaucoma blinded him in his right eye.
Salomon Olembe, Cameroon – 17 years, 184 days
Cameroon’s Salomon Olembe is fourth on the list of youngest footballers to play at a FIFA World Cup.
Olembe made his debut aged 17 years and 184 days in Cameroon’s 1998 FIFA World Cup opener against Austria. At the time, he was the youngest African to take part in football’s biggest event.
His record only lasted a few games, however, as fellow countryman Samuel Eto’o made his debut a few days later in Cameroon’s last game of the 1998 World Cup against England.
Pele, Brazil – 17 years, 234 days
Contrary to many who make the list of youngest footballers at the World Cup, Pele actually scored in his World Cup debut when he was 17 years and 239 days old. It was the quarter-final game against Wales at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
Pelé’s treble in Brazil’s 5-2 win over France in the semi-finals made it 1-0 youngest footballer to score a World Cup hat-trick. Pelé set further records in the final when he scored twice in Brazil’s 5-2 win over hosts Sweden to become champions youngest player to play and score in a World Cup final. He became that too youngest FIFA world champion At the end.
Pele was part of the Brazilian teams that won the 1962 and 1970 FIFA World Cups. He retired in 1971 after scoring 77 goals in just 92 caps.
Ifeanyi Chiejine, Nigeria – 16 years and 34 days
At 16 years and 34 days, Nigerian Ifeanyi Chiejine became the youngest footballer to ever play at a FIFA Women’s World Cup. She made her debut at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup against North Korea and also took part in the 2003 and 2007 editions. She also featured in Nigeria’s Olympic campaigns in 2000 and 2008.
The Nigerian forward resigned after the Beijing 2008 Olympics. She died of complications from an illness in August 2019 at the age of 36.