Panama's Luis Tejada also said his aunt received a vision from God that her nephew would score an impressive overheard kick at the tournament in Russia.
The 36-year-old strike described growing up in neighbourhoods of Panama City which were blighted by gangs and gun crime.
He told TVN Panama: "Sometimes I stop to think: the only things that never stop are time and the wind.
"I don't know if I would be dead, [without football], 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."
Tejada, who first played for his national football team in 2001, is due to retire after the World Cup.
Referring to Panama's failure to reach the competition in 2014, he continued: "When the US beat us and we didn't qualify for the World Cup, I told my mother I would happily give away all the titles I've won in exchange for God to give us another chance.
"Now, He has done that. For me, that is the biggest success in my career."
He added: "I would swap every goal I've scored for just one in Russia."
Tejada's interview formed part of the Guardian newspaper's 2018 World Cup Experts' Network, a partnership of various media organisations from the 32 World Cup participant countries.
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