Johannesburg: Pick a country, any country.
Better yet, pick two.
National pride can be a complicated thing at the World
Cup. While most players are representing the countries where
they were born, others - for various reasons - are like UN
ambassadors. One Boateng brother plays for Germany, the other
for Ghana. Algeria`s Hassan Yebda won an Under-17 world title
with France. Winston Reid is a Kiwi by way of Denmark. Stuart
Holden was born in Scotland and still has a UK passport, yet
now wears the colors of the United States.
"Moving to the States at 10 and becoming ingrained in the
culture and considering myself an American - I still have that
Scottish tradition and culture that I`ll never forget," Holden
said. "But being able to represent the US in a World Cup is
something that is really prideful to me, and something I`ll
carry with me for the rest of my life."
Switching allegiances is nothing new in sport, football
in particular. Joe Gaetjens, who scored the only goal in the
United States` monumental upset of England in 1950, was from
Haiti. Alfredo di Stefano, one of the game`s greatest players,
played for Spain and Colombia as well as his native Argentina.
Ferenc Puskas, the mightiest of Hungary`s "Magical Magyars,"
finished his international career with Spain.
But football isn`t like the Olympics these days, where
nationalities are about as hard and fast as rubber bands.
According to current FIFA rules, players with dual
nationalities are free to switch sides at any age - so long as
you haven`t appeared in an official game (think World Cup or
European championship) with a senior national team. Make an
appearance, even if it`s just for a few minutes, and you
better know the words to that country`s national anthem
because you`ll be hearing it for the rest of your career.
That means Holden can`t decide in a year or two that he
would rather play for Scotland. But the Berlin-born
Kevin-Prince Boateng was free to become a Ghanaian because
he`d only played on Germany`s youth teams.
(There`s a loophole for new countries. If Kosovo is ever
formally recognized by FIFA, for example, Switzerland`s three
Kosovo-born players - Valon Behrami, Albert Bunjaku and
Xherdan Shaqiri - would be eligible to play for their
"My heart is always in Kosovo," Behrami said at the 2008
European Championship. "I always wear the Kosovo colors. But I
am on the Swiss team, and when I play football I wear the
Cynics will say that players - and teams - are shopping
for the best opportunities, and no doubt some are.
The World Cup is the pinnacle for any top-level player,
and it`s a lot easier to get here if you grew up in, say,
Denmark, than football-mad Brazil, where above-average talent
won`t even get you an invitation to a youth camp.