Group A

Saudi

Arabia

Egypt

Uruguay

Russia

Group B

Portugal

Iran

Spain

Morocco

Group C

France

Australia

Denmark

Peru

Group D

Argentina

Iceland

Croatia

Nigeria

Group E

Costa

Rica

Brazil

Switz.

Serbia

Group F

South

Korea

Germany

Sweden

Mexico

Group G

Belgium

England

Panama

Tunisia

Group H

Senegal

Colombia

Poland

Japan

Saudi

Arabia

Group A

Uruguay

Egypt

Russia

Group B

Portugal

Iran

Spain

Morocco

France

Australia

Denmark

Peru

Group C

Group D

Argentina

Croatia

Iceland

Nigeria

Costa

Rica

Brazil

Switz.

Serbia

Group E

South

Korea

Germany

Sweden

Mexico

Group F

Belgium

England

Tunisia

Panama

Group G

Colombia

Poland

Senegal

Japan

Group H

Group G

Group H

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

Group E

Group F

Uruguay

Spain

France

Argentina

Brazil

Germany

Belgium

Colombia

Egypt

Portugal

Denmark

Croatia

Switzerland

Mexico

England

Poland

Russia

Morocco

Australia

Iceland

Costa

Rica

Sweden

Tunisia

Senegal

Saudi

Arabia

Iran

Peru

Nigeria

Serbia

South

Korea

Panama

Japan

Of the 736 players in this year’s World Cup...

82 were not born in the countries they are representing

In fact, 22 of the tournament’s 32 teams have at least one foreign-born player. Morocco has 17.

How can that be? A combination of ancestry, immigration, war and some occasional competitive shenanigans tells the tale.

Only citizens of a country are eligible to play for its national team, according to FIFA, international soccer’s governing body.

But because citizenship rules vary — birth, parentage and residency are handled in different ways in different countries — around the globe, many players qualify for more than one national team.

An extreme example is Belgium midfielder Adnan Januzaj, who had his pick of up to seven national teams.

Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj (Nico Vereecken/Associated Press)

He was born in Belgium shortly after his parents fled war in Kosovo, and he grew up there. But he also could’ve played for — stick with us here — Kosovo, Serbia or possibly Croatia (all from his mother’s ancestry), Albania (his parents’ birthplace), Turkey (the homeland of his father’s parents) or England (where he had played since his teens).

He received death threats from angry fans in 2014 when he picked Belgium rather than choosing — and waiting for FIFA to recognize — the Kosovar team. (Kosovo entered FIFA in 2016.)

The many colors of Les Bleus

Fifty French-born players appear on World Cup rosters, the most of any country. (Brazil is second with 28.)

Having a multicultural team has been a source of pride and controversy.

In 1998, France celebrated the diversity of its “Black-Blanc-Beur” (Black-White-Arab) team, which won the World Cup on home turf led by Zinedine Zidane, a goal-scoring icon of Algerian descent.

But tension lurked below a united exterior.

Earlier that year, 38 percent of people admitted to being racist in a government survey, and racial issues have plagued the team on and off since.

In 2006, the socialist president of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France declared he was “ashamed” and complained that the team would soon “be 11 black people when it would be normal to have three or four.”

In 2011, officials of the French federation were recorded debating putting limits on black and Arab players in the country’s soccer academies. And player selection, a ruthless and controversial process to begin with, has been complicated by racial undertones.

B R A Z I L

Of the 82 foreign-born players

at the World Cup...

29 were born in

FRANCE

Twenty-five French-born players play for three African teams

5 in

7 in

BRAZIL

NETHERLANDS

Born in Brazil,

Mario Fernandes

plays for Russia.

4 in

Spain

Cameroon

Bosnia

2 in

cape verde

germany, kosovo

3 in

and

switzerland

sweden

One player was born in each of the follwing countries: Angola, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, D.R. Congo, Denmark, England, Iran, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Macedonia, Nicaragua, Russia, Uganda and United States.

B R A Z I L

Of the 82 foreign-born players at

the World Cup...

29 were born in

FRANCE

Twenty-five French-born players play for three African teams

7 in

5 in

NETHERLANDS

BRAZIL

Born in Brazil,

Mario Fernandes

plays for Russia.

4 in

Spain

Cameroon

Bosnia

2 in

cape verde

germany, kosovo

3 in

and

switzerland

sweden

One player was born in each of the follwing countries: Angola, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, D.R. Congo, Denmark, England, Iran, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Macedonia, Nicaragua, Russia, Uganda and United States.

B R A Z I L

Of the 82 foreign-born players at the World Cup...

7 in

29 were born in

NETHERLANDS

FRANCE

Twenty-five French-born players play for three African teams (Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal)

5 in

BRAZIL

Born in Brazil,

Mario Fernandes

plays for Russia.

4 in

3 in

switzerland

Spain

Cameroon

Bosnia

2 in

One player was born in each of the follwing countries: Angola, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, D.R. Congo, Denmark, England, Iran, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Macedonia, Nicaragua, Russia, Uganda and United States.

cape verde,

germany, kosovo

and

Sweden

Born in , plays for .

Born in , plays for .

Some players moved for their parents’ jobs

Japan’s Gotoku Sakai (Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press)

Most of the players who aren’t representing their birth countries emigrated as children and play for their adopted countries. That is true of Gotoku Sakai, the lone U.S.-born player in the tournament; he was born in New York to a Japanese father and moved to Japan at age 2.

Costa Rica’s Rodney Wallace (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press)

Perhaps the “most American” player in the World Cup this year is Rodney Wallace, a native of Costa Rica who emigrated as a 9-year-old when his mom took a job three blocks from the White House. He went to college at the University of Maryland, played for three Major League Soccer teams and considers home to be Rockville, Md.

Costa Rica’s only non-native player, Oscar Duarte, was born in Catarina, Nicaragua, which is two hours from the Costa Rican border. He moved at age 5 with his mother; Nicaraguans often travel to Costa Rica in search of better jobs. He became a Costa Rican citizen at 13, but he is a hero in his Nicaraguan hometown, where his mother still spends part of the year.

Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara has a multinational history that mirrors his father’s career path. Born in Italy, where his dad, Brazilian midfielder Mazinho, played professionally, Alcantara moved to Spain at 3 when his father played in Valencia, then a few years later to Brazil, where Mazinho wanted to retire.

He returned to Spain as a teen to train at a prestigious academy, and he told Sports Illustrated in a 2015 interview that, although he speaks five languages, he thinks in Spanish.

His brother, Rafael Alcantara (aka Rafinha), chose to play for Brazil (where he was born) but did not make the World Cup roster.

Of the 82 foreign-born

players at the World Cup...

17 play for

morocco

Eight foreign-born players in the

Moroccan team are from France

9

and

tunisia

senegal

8

7

Switzerland

portugal

5

and

serbia

croatia

4

nigeria

3

spain

Born in Italy, Thiago plays for Spain.

AUSTRALIA, FRANCE

and ICELAND 2

Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, England, Iran, Japan, Poland, Russia and Uruguay have one foreign-born player in their teams.

Of the 82 foreign-born players

at the World Cup...

17 play for

morocco

Eight foreign-born players in the

Moroccan team

are from France

and

9

tunisia

senegal

8

7

Switzerland

portugal

5

serbia

CROATIA and

NIGERIA 4

3

spain

Born in Italy, Thiago plays for Spain.

AUSTRALIA, FRANCE

and ICELAND 2

Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, England, Iran, Japan, Poland, Russia and Uruguay have one foreign-born player in their teams.

Of the 82 foreign-born players at the World Cup...

17 play for

and

9

morocco

tunisia

senegal

Eight foreign-born players in the

Moroccan team

are from France

7

5

8

Switzerland

portugal

serbia

and

croatia

4

3

nigeria

spain

Born in Italy, Thiago plays for Spain.

AUSTRALIA, FRANCE

and ICELAND 2

Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, England, Iran, Japan, Poland, Russia and Uruguay have one foreign-born player in their teams.

Born in , plays for .

Born in , plays for .

Others’ families were uprooted by war

The 1990s were a turbulent time in the Balkans, where the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia became a free-for-all of ethnic conflict.

Players born during this time are scattered around the globe, playing for countries where their parents fled as refugees.

Australian defender Milos Degenek’s family members, who are ethnic Serbs, fled Croatia to Belgrade when he was a toddler, according to his first-person account. They emigrated to Australia when he was 7, he wrote, and “it was like being born a second time.”

Midfielder Granit Xhaka’s parents left Kosovo for Switzerland, with help from Amnesty International, after his father had been imprisoned for demonstrating against the communist regime. Xhaka plays for Switzerland, where he was born.

Several other Swiss players have roots in the Balkans, such as striker Josip Drmic, whose Croatian parents also fled to Switzerland.

And two Serbian team members, Aleksandar Prijovic and Milos Veljkovic, are ethnic Serbs who were born and raised in Switzerland after their parents emigrated.

Switzerland and Serbia will face each other in Group E play Friday in Kaliningrad.

SWITZERLAND

Xherdan Shaqiri

Granit Xhaqa

Born in present-day

Kosovo

Kosovo

Albanian

parents

Blerim

Dzemaili

Born in the

Republic of

Macedonia

Haris

Seferovic

Josip Drmic

Family of

Bosnian

origin

Born to

Croatian

parents

Valon

Behrami

Mario

Gavranovic

Born in

present-day

Kosovo

His parents

moved from

Bosnia the

year before

he was born

Milan Rodic

Born in

present-day

Bosnia-

Herzegovina

SERBIA

Luka Jovic

Born in Bosnia-

Herzegovina

Aleksandar

Prijovic

Born in

Switzerland

Milos Veljkovic

Born in Switzerland

Milan Rodic

Xherdan Shaqiri

Born in

present-day

Bosnia-

Herzegovina

SWITZERLAND

SERBIA

Born in

present-day

Kosovo

Haris

Seferovic

Luka

Jovic

Granit

Xhaqa

Josip

Drmic

Born to

Croatian

parents

Born in Bosnia-

Herzegovina

Family of

Bosnian

origin

Kosovo

Albanian

parents

Mario

Gavranovic

Valon

Behrami

Aleksandar

Prijovic

Milos

Veljkovic

Blerim

Dzemaili

His parents

moved from

Bosnia the

year before

he was born

Born in

present-day

Kosovo

Born in

Switzerland

Born in

Switzerland

Born in the

Republic of

Macedonia

Milan Rodic

Xherdan Shaqiri

Born in present-day

Bosnia-

Herzegovina

Born in present-day

Kosovo

SWITZERLAND

SERBIA

Haris

Seferovic

Granit

Xhaqa

Luka Jovic

Josip Drmic

Born in Bosnia-

Herzegovina

Family of

Bosnian

origin

Born to

Croatian

parents

Kosovo

Albanian

parents

Valon

Behrami

Aleksandar

Prijovic

Mario

Gavranovic

Born in

present-day

Kosovo

Milos

Veljkovic

Blerim

Dzemaili

Born in

Switzerland

His parents

moved from

Bosnia the

year before

he was born

Born in

Switzerland

Born in the

Republic of

Macedonia

Some countries serve as Plan B

Players with dual citizenship have a backup plan if their home countries don’t call. This is especially true ahead of the World Cup as less accomplished countries try to beef up their rosters by scouting for talented dual citizens among the world powers. That’s how how a native of Sweden ended up playing for a country he never even visited.

Iran’s Saman Ghoddos (Associated Press)

Saman Ghoddos was born and raised in Sweden and played friendlies for the Swedish team in 2017. But when World Cup qualifying came around, Sweden dragged its feet about calling him.

In swooped Iran, his parents’ birth country. Sweden belatedly rang, but Ghoddos rejected the offer. His first trip to Iran came when he joined his new team.

What if Iran and Sweden meet in the World Cup?

“It’s crazy," Ghoddos told CNN, "but I would love to play that game."

FIFA doesn’t want players to switch teams willy-nilly or to repeatedly sell their citizenship to the highest bidder. Therefore, the organization allows a player to change national teams once, and only before he has reached the sport’s highest level.

Once a player plays for a senior national team in a competitive match such as a World Cup qualifier, he is stuck with that team. (Exhibition games don’t count, which is why Ghoddos could switch to Iran even after he scored in a friendly for Sweden.)

It is not unheard of for a team to put a young player with potential on its roster once to secure his services for the rest of his life. And it is not unheard of for a player to decline an invitation from one country in the hopes that he will get a better offer from another.

Sometimes, roots are not relevant

Spain’s Diego Costa (Nelson Almeida/AFP)

Occasionally the decision has nothing to do with identity and everything to do with opportunity.

Brazil-born striker Diego Costa, who played two friendlies for Brazil in 2013, now plays for Spain — even though he has no Spanish roots.

Costa was raised in Brazil with a soccer-obsessed father who named him after Argentinian icon Diego Maradona. But the notoriously hotheaded striker played mostly for Spanish clubs since he was 19 and, when Brazil’s coach seemed tepid on putting him on the World Cup squad, he switched nationalities in 2013, right before the 2014 tournament.

Russia’s Mario Fernandes (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

Russia’s only non-native player, Mario Fernandes, also hails from Brazil but began playing for CSKA Moscow in 2012.

After a troubled history with Brazil, he thought his chances to play in a World Cup would be better with Russia. He was granted citizenship in 2016 by presidential decree from Vladimir Putin and officially joined the team in 2017 after meeting FIFA’s five-year residency requirement.

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Even some teams with all native players have roots abroad

Ten World Cup rosters are filled only with players born in those countries, but their international connections are obvious in their names and their stories.

Belgium has many native-born players of African heritage: Dedryck Boyata, Vincent Kompany and Youri Tielemans have parents of Congolese descent; Romelu Lukaku’s father played for Zaire; Nacer Chadli’s family is Moroccan, and he played a friendly for Morocco before choosing Belgium.

John Guidetti of Sweden has Italian roots and grew up playing barefoot on the streets of Nairobi as a child when his father taught in Kenya.

The German team includes players with roots in Turkey, Spain and Sierra Leone. It also has Jerome Boateng, whose half-brother Kevin-Prince plays for Ghana. The brothers met in the 2014 World Cup.

In a small victory for family harmony, the match ended in a 2-2 draw.

About this story

Illustrations by Aya Kakeda for The Washington Post. Photo by Armand Emamdjomeh/The Washington Post.

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