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HT@World Cup: International touch to national teams

A Brazilian lining up for Spain, another for Croatia, a player born and raised in California defending for Iran; teams in this World Cup are looking more international than national.

india Updated: Jun 17, 2014 14:11 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

A Brazilian lining up for Spain, another for Croatia, a player born and raised in California defending for Iran; teams in this World Cup are looking more international than national. Adnan Januzaj, 19, was eligible to play for five countries before settling for Belgium.

"My blood is Brazilian but my heart is now Croatian," said Eduardo Alves da Silva. Brazil open their World Cup campaign here against Croatia on Thursday and it will be interesting to see the kind of reception Arena de Sao Paulo accords the player who was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro before moving to Croatia in 2001. Now 31, Edu's speed and guile on the left flank was one of the reasons why England slipped in the Wembley slush in a Euro 2008 qualifier. It cost Steve McLaren the England manager's job.

Edu is Croatia's second-highest goalscorer behind the legendary Davor Suker. Diego Costa has some distance to travel before he can get that far in a Spain shirt but the defending champions would hope he does well in this World Cup. Born in Lagarto, Brazil, Costa's been at the centre of a tug-of-war between the Spanish and the Brazilian football federations after becoming a Spanish national.

Before he hobbled out of the Champions League final, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone had said his star goalscorer was the best injection Spain have been given. "He has great physical and mental strength, but can still improve a lot," Simeone has said.

"His is a unique case. He was born in Brazil, but was formed here and has shown in his club that he deserves to come with us, that is why I have called him up," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.

The irony of this comment wouldn't be lost on Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari who, when in charge of Portugal, had got Brazilians Deco and Pepe to switch nationalities.

USA coach Juergen Klinsmann has chosen seven players in a squad of 23 who are not products of the American system. But the case of Steven Mehrdad Beitashour is curiouser. Capped twice by the USA, Beitashour, 27 who was born in San Jose, California where he has lived all his life, opted to play for Iran last October. "I think it's a great position to be in to have two options, to say the least," the right-back had said in 2012 when asked which country he would choose.

Even though they have voted to curb immigration last February, Switzerland's squad for this World Cup reflects the fact that nearly one in four Swiss are foreigners. When Switzerland beat Brazil last August there were five players whose parents were born in Yugoslavia. Two of them Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are born in Kosovo as is Valon Behrami, a veteran of two World Cups. Apart from them, Croat Josip Dermic, Bosnian Haris Seferovic, Blerim Dzemaili and Admir Mehmedi, Albanians from Macedonia, are expected to play important roles in this World Cup.

Belgium's road to Brazil and being rated as the fifth favourites too has a lot of contribution from immigrants. "They don't have the same chances as the other ones, and that's why they're so proud of the national team, because now they are also accepted as Belgian people, because they see some of their own playing for the national team. A few years ago it was not like that," Kismet Eris, a community worker who also represents Benteke, was quoted as saying in a Guardian report.

Born to Kosovan parents in Brussels, Januzaj was also eligible to play for Turkey, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania through ethnicity or blood relations but opted for Belgium after a bit of grandstanding between his father and Belgium coach Marc Wilmots.

Multi-ethnic squads have been the norm with German and French World Cup teams for a while now. That there is more to the mix this time is possibly the best elucidation of how they have integrated in more European societies.