FIFA’s eligibility rules to play at the international level has several provisions but it only allows a player to change the country they want to represent if and only if they’ve not played a competitive game for another country at the senior level. With this rule, several players have changed their allegiance and played for two countries.
5. MARIO FERNANDES – Brazil and Russia
Mario Fernandes was part of Russia’s squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The CSKA Moscow right-back was one the host nation’s best players at the tournament as they made an unexpected run to the quarterfinals. In fact, Fernandes scored a goal late in extra time in the quarterfinal against Croatia to send the game to penalties but he missed his spot kick in the shootout.
In 2011, he was called up to the Brazil team for the first time but he missed the flight as he had been partying the night before and as a result, he didn’t play for the national team for the next three years. His only appearance for the Selecao was in 2014 in a 4-0 friendly win over Japan.
In addition, after he completed negotiations with CSKA in 2012 for a then club record transfer, Real Madrid made an offer but he opted to stick to his original decision. If it wasn’t for the two abovementioned incidents, he would have never played for Russia.
In July 2016, he received Russian citizenship via a presidential decree from Vladimir Putin and has since gone on to play 12 times for the national team.
4. ROMAN NEUSTADTER – Germany and Russia
Roman Neustadter was eligible to play for Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan at the international level. He qualified for Russia because his mother is an ethnic Russian and for Ukraine because he was born in Dnipro when his father was playing for Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. He qualified for Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan through his father who was a Kyrgyz-born Kazakhstan international and finally, Neustadter qualified for Germany where he grew up.
He started his football education at German club Mainz where his father, Peter Neustädter, coached the reserve team. He played for Germany at the youth level and before he made his senior debut, Ukraine expressed interest in calling up the player. He was willing to accept the call-up if he was asked but he had to obtain a Ukrainian passport first.
In 2012, when he was playing for Schalke, he was called up to the Germany senior team for a couple of friendly fixtures and he made his debut against the Netherlands. After making two appearances for Germany, he didn’t receive a call-up again and in 2016, he was granted Russian citizenship by Vladamir Putin after signing a special decree.
He has played eight times for Russia but didn’t make the final squad list for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
3. NACER CHADLI – Morocco and Belgium
Nacer Chadli has played in two World Cups for Belgium and scored one of the best goals of the 2018 edition.
The 29-year-old forward was born in Liège in Belgium to a father of Moroccan descent. In November 2010, while he was playing for Dutch club Twente, he made his senior debut for Morocco in a friendly against Northern Ireland and was named the man of the match.
In January 2011, he expressed his desire to play for Belgium which was possible because he only played for Morocco in a friendly. The following month he made his debut for Belgium in a friendly against Finland.
Chadli has 54 caps for Belgium so far and has scored six goals. His last goal for Belgium was the winning goal in injury time to lift Belgium to a 3–2 victory over Japan after being 2-0 down in the round of 16 of the 2018 World Cup.
2. WILFRIED ZAHA – England and Côte d’Ivoire
England has a history of players with foreign origins. For instance, in the current squad, Raheem Sterling was born in Jamaica and Nathaniel Chalobah was born in Sierra Leone. The Three Lions ensure that the best players with foreign origins represent them but Wilfried Zaha is one that got away despite playing for the senior team twice.
Zaha was born in Ivory Coast and at the age of four, he moved with his family including eight siblings to England. He received his football education at Crystal Palace and played a key role in helping them gain promotion to the Premier League in 2012-13. It was his form during that season that prompted then England manager Roy Hodgson to give Zaha his debut in a friendly against Sweden.
Ahead of the 2013-14 season, Zaha joined Manchester United and he looked out of his depths there and after only one season, he returned to Crystal Palace. In November 2016, Zaha started work to switch his international football allegiance from England to the Ivory Coast even though England manager Gareth Southgate indicated he would dissuade the Crystal Palace man. In January 2017, Zaha made his debut for the Elephants and was also included in the squad for the African Cup of Nations.
The 25-year-old is currently managed by Hodgson at club level and the former England manager stated that he regrets not fielding Zaha in a competitive game to tie him down to England.
1. DIEGO COSTA – Brazil and Spain
You can’t really blame Diego Costa for wanting to switch his international allegiance from Brazil to Spain because he was below Fred and Jo in the pecking order under Luiz Felipe Scolari. However, Scolari gave Costa his international debut in March 2013 in a friendly against Italy as a second-half substitute for Fred.
One of the reasons why Costa was able to switch to Spain is because Brazil hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup. As hosts, they qualified for the tournament automatically because of which they didn’t play any qualifying fixtures which are considered competitive games. Instead, Brazil played friendlies when other teams were playing qualifiers and Costa played for the Selecao in two such friendlies.
In September 2013, the Spanish federation requested FIFA to allow Costa to play for Spain because he held a Spanish passport and the following month, the player sent a letter to Brazil Football Confederation (CBF) declaring his intention to play for La Furia Roja. His decision didn’t go down well with Scolari and CBF, and both parties made several angry comments.
Costa made his debut for Spain in March 2014 and has represented them at two World Cups. He has 10 goals in 24 appearances for them of which he has scored nine in his last 14 appearances.