Football fans from across the globe tuning in to watch the FIFA World Cup might have spotted some players wearing unusual face coverings during the games in Qatar.
Players such as Son Heung-Min of South Korea, Thomas Meunier of Belgium, Josko Gvardiol of Croatia and Ellyes Skhiri of Tunisia have all been seen sporting face masks over the course of the tournament so far. Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand was also spotted wearing one of the protective face masks after sustaining an injury against England in the tournament opener.
The black masks have featured in several games throughout the tournament, but they are far from a fashion statement. So why do football players wear face masks and why are so many World Cup stars wearing them?
Here is everything you need to know.
Why do football players wear face masks?
Face masks are used to protect players who have recently had a facial injury. The masks are made up of materials such as polycarbonate and are hi-tech protective devices.
The masks allow players to play on after a face injury and reduce the risk of sustaining further damage. Many of the masks are 3D printed to ensure that they fit a scan of the contours of a footballers face to produce maximum protection.
Which players have worn masks during the FIFA World Cup?
Masks have become infrequently familiar sightings at this year’s tournament in Qatar over the course of the tournament players such as Son Heung Min and Thomas Meunier have regularly been seen wearing them throughout the tournament.
One of Croatia’s best talents Josko Gvardiol has also donned the protective mask throughout the tournament. The 20-year-old has been a key figure in the defence for Croatia and has helped them to reach the last four of the World Cup for the second consecutive tournament.
Gvardiol sustained the injury during a clash with his teammate Willi Obran during a match in early November but despite the knock he has gone on to feature in every game since then due to his protective mask.
What have players said about the protective masks?
Tottenham star Son Heung-Min was a highly influential player for South Korea and he played a pivotal role in helping them progress to the round of 16.
Prior to the tournament the South Korean forward sustained an injury whilst playing for Tottenham Hotspur in a Champions League match against Marseille. Son had a head-on collision with former Newcastle defender Chancel Mbemba’s shoulder and fractured his eye socket. At the time he was viewed as a doubt for the World Cup and it was the polycarbonate made 3D mask which allowed him to represent his country at the tournament in Qatar.
Son played every game of the World Cup with the face mask and provided the all important assist for his side during a dramatic 2-1 victory over Portugal in the final group game. The win secured South Korea a place in the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time since 2010.
Son has recently been wearing a black carbon fibre mask during games and has admitted that it is much more comfortable then he was expecting it to be. The 30-year-old star said: “ I thought. It’s made of good material. It’s light, hard when worn on the face, and it’s a good material that can protect against impact. I was surprised that it was considerably lighter than I thought.”