One in 10 players at the World Cup were born outside the country they play for

Morocco’s multinational squad.
Morocco’s multinational squad.
Image: AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
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The players on Morocco’s World Cup team will receive instructions in three languages: English, French, and Arabic. Fully 17 of the 23-person squad were not born in Morocco: eight in France, five in the Netherlands, two in Spain, and one each in Canada and Belgium.  The team is coached by a Frenchman, Hervé Renard.

Morocco has a particularly large number of foreign-born players among 2018 World Cup squads, but non-locals is not all that uncommon. Players who were not born in the country are eligible to play for the national team if a parent or grandparent was born in the country, or if they have lived in the country for at least five years.

This year, just over 10% of players in the World Cup were born outside the country they are playing for.

For many teams, the foreign-born share of players reflect the nation’s history. All nine foreign-born players on Tunisia’s team, and eight out of the nine on Senegal’s, were born in France, the former colonial ruler. Three of the six foreign-born players on Switzerland’s team were born in Yugoslavia and migrated to Switzerland in the early 1990s. Immigrants from the former Yugoslavia made up roughly 6% of the population of Switzerland in 2009.

For players with a choice of countries, the decision of which team to play for can be fraught—once they play for a country’s senior team in a competitive match, they cannot switch. Sofyan Amrabat, who was born in the Netherlands to parents of Moroccan descent, chose to play for Morocco  even though he had good chance of being selected by the Dutch national team. (His brother Nordin Amrabat, also born in the Netherlands, made the same decision.) It turned out to be a good choice: This year, Morocco made it into the World Cup for the first time in 20 years, while the Netherlands—on paper, a much higher-ranked team—missed the cut.