The changing face of the World Cup

Watching Germany demolish Australia early on Monday morning, it was hard to level the old criticisms at the Germans, grinding out a result in the unattractive manner that became their wont over so many years.

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Here was a stylish, attacking, young and pacy team with bags of technique, building on the style that developed at the last World Cup, held on their home turf.

But perhaps most noticeable was how the team had changed in terms of appearances.

Germany is a multicultural nation. But until recently, its national team had not embraced players of non-German heritage.

All of that changed when Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, an attacking duo any nation would be pleased to field, pitted their strengths on behalf of Germany instead of Poland.

Now, in 2010, the side boasts Cacau, of Brazilian heritage, Mario Gomez, with links to Spain, young star Sami Khedira, who has a Tunisian dad, and the mercurial Mesut Oezil, who, despite being one of two million Turkish-Germans, is one of very few Turks to play, let alone star for Germany.

Mehmet Scholl might have chosen Germany as the Vaterland back in the 90s, but Turkish stars such as Halil Altintop and Yildiray Bastuerk were born in Germany, opting for Turkish representation.

Yet Oezil, despite requests from Turkey, chose to play for the country his grandparents headed to – reportedly angering a few folk back in Turkey.

England and France forge a path in Europe

England and France have included second-generation migrants into their squads for years.

And England could have perhaps avoided Robert Green’s calamity in their opening match this time round – Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, eligible for British citizenship, has said he would play for England, in the event of not being called up for Spain. In the end, Spain had more than enough decent keepers – but England manager Fabio Capello – an Italian – brushed off the suggestions of picking a ‘Spanish’ player.

When France won the World Cup in 1998, the multicultural squad was held up as an example of the successes of French multiculturalism – even if a look at the backgrounds of university graduates or successful business people might say otherwise.

Players traced their heritage to the Basque Country, various African nations, New Caledonia, Armenia, or Berbers in Algeria, as in the case of one of the all-time greats, Zinedine Zidane.

The Swiss: Not living live up to their image

This time round, Switzerland might have had some bad international press in recent months, what with the slightly contentious decision to ban Islamic minarets, but if the national team in South Africa is anything to go by, the country is a bastion of integration.

Blaise N’Kufo is of Congolese origin, Eren Derdiyok’s parents were Kurds who migrated from Turkey, Goekhan Inler and Hakan Yakin also trace roots to Turkey, while Albert Bunjaku, a Kosovar, and Xherdan Shaqiri, both moved to Switzerland from Albania as children.

Meanwhile, Capa Verde-born Swiss player Gelson Fernandes is reportedly the cousin of Portuguese national player Manuel Fernandes.

Portugal, in turn, have had several international stars with links to Portugal’s former colonies around the world, not least one of the all time greats, Mozambican-Portuguese hero of World Cup 66, Eusebio.

Samba around the world

Over in former Portuguese colony Brazil, the hand of history has provided a famously cosmopolitan culture which has always been duly represented in the country’s brilliant displays in football tournaments.

But third rate Brazilians are also often good enough to play first rate football for everyone else. Qatar reportedly gave three Brazilians citizenship within one week, while Togo naturlized five footballers from Brazil to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004.

North Korea has enjoyed the benefits of a tenuous connection – star striker Jong Tae Se was born in Japan to parents tracing themselves to South Korea, but has acquired North Korean citizenship. As well as scoring goals, his top trait is crying when the national anthem plays.

Aussies fly the flags

Even Australia has effectively exported stars to other countries. One of the great Italian stars of recent times, Christian Vieri, spent most of his life in Australia after moving to Sydney as a small boy. While he picked Italy, his arguably less-gifted brother Max became a Socceroo.

One look at the Croatian squad at the last world cup, featuring ‘Aussies’ Josip Simunic, Joey Didulica and Ante Seric, shows Australia’s exporting prowess, while Croatia also sought the service of Mark Viduka.

And the upcoming clash with Serbia is set to remind us of the multicultural reach of football in Australia.

The squad features players with heritage from across the old continent, while Nikita Rukavytsya moved to Australia from the Ukraine at the ripe old age of 14.

Star midfielder Tim Cahill has mixed British-Irish and Samoan heritage, as any Everton familiar with his trademark paddle celebration would attest.

Cahill, who represented Samoa as a 14 year-old, also reportedly attempted to play for Ireland when denied permission to play for Australia by FIFA, but was denied.

As it stands, however, a rule change meant Cahill could play for Australia despite his previous Samoa appearance.

Until recently, FIFA rules said that players ‘eligible to change associations in order to play for another national team could only do so until their 21st birthday.’ Last year, this age limit was upped.

And if you believe some of the stories, a young Cristiano Ronaldo almost moved to Perth with his mum and other family members.

Whether that qualifies him for Saturday’s Socceroos clash with Ghana, is another thing altogether.