Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Our Foreigners Are Better Than Your Foreigners

Last night, the U.S. team played Ghana in their first game of the 2014 World Cup. After Clint Dempsey scored 30 seconds into the game, the U.S. held the lead until the 82nd minute, when Ghana finally equalized. But in the 86th minute, John Anthony Brooks (he goes by all 3 names), a defender, headed in a corner kick to win it.

Someone made the point that Brooks, who plays centreback for German side Hertha Berlin, was born in Berlin. Another defender, Timothy Chandler, also plays for the Bundesliga club in the city in which he was born: Eintracht Frankfurt. Still another defender, Fabian Johnson, was born in Munich, and plays for German club Hoffenheim.

All 3 are the sons of German mothers and American fathers, men stationed in Germany, as a result of our winning World War II and needing to fight the Cold War (though they were born at the tail end of that). This does not include midfielder Julian Green, whose American serviceman father and German mother moved to the U.S. before he was born, and so he was born in Tampa. Though he played for German youth teams and is signed to Germany's most decorated club, Bayern Munich, he chose to play for America -- probably because Germany's team is too good for him to make it, at age 19.

Then there's midfielder Mikkel "Mix" Diskerud, son of an American mother and a Norwegian father, born and raised in Norway, and plays for Norwegian side Rosenborg. This is to say nothing of the Hispanic immigrants, or the sons thereof, who have played for the USMNT (United States Men's National Team) and gotten it into every World Cup since 1990. The current contingent includes defender Omar Gonzalez (born in Dallas to Mexican immigrants) and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (born in Englewood, Bergen County, New Jersey to Colombians). While not Hispanic, Aaron Johansson was born in Mobile, Alabama to immigrants from Iceland.

And then there's Gedion Zelalem. Born in Germany to Ethiopian parents, after his mother died he moved with his father to America, to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. He now plays for Arsenal, thankfully, and recently made his first-team debut, against Coventry City in the 4th Round of the FA Cup, despite having just turned 17. But he hasn't decided who to play for internationally: Germany, Ethiopia, or America. Having not played at the senior level for any, he is eligible to play for any of the 3 -- but only for 1 of the 3.

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So, what's the deal? We can't find enough Americans? No, we can find enough Americans. Whether they're "American" enough for you is beside the point: We're not breaking the rules, we're using the rules.

So is everyone else. Well, not quite everyone else. But most of the teams. Here are the other countries playing in this World Cup, in alphabetical order, with their foreign-born players:

Algeria: Only 7 players were born at home, the other 16 in France: Cedric Si Mohamed, Madjid Bougherra, Faouzi Goulam, Nabil Ghilas, Sofiane Feghouli, Yacine Brahimi, Medhi Lacen, Carl Medjani, Nabil Bentaleb, Liassine Cadamuro-Bentaïba, Hassan Yebda, Saphir Taïder, Aïssa Mandi, Riyad Mahrez, Mehdi Mostefa and Raïs M’Bohli. In 2010, 17 of their 23 were born in France. This is a by-product of Algeria's 1954-62 war of independence from France. While many men born in one of France's former African colonies have played for France -- most notably, Senegal-born Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira -- with Algerians, it has usually been the other way, with the most notable exception being Zinedine Zidane. Former Arsenal star Samir Nasri was also born in France of Algerian descent, but chose to play for France -- until current manager Didier Deschamps, himself a sensational France player once, dropped him from this year's squad.

Argentina: Gonzalo Higuaín (France).

Australia: Dario Vidošić (Croatia), Nikita Rukavytsya (Ukraine). Vidošić is one of 7 players on their roster having names suggesting ancestry from the former Yugoslavia. Despite this, and despite liking to claim (like America) that they are a nation of immigrants, the other 21 players on the team were all born in Australia.

Belgium: Anthony Vanden Borre (Congo, formerly Zaire, formerly Belgian Congo).

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Emir Spahić (Croatia); Zvjezdan Misimović, Sead Kolašinac and Muhamed Bešić (Germany). Considering the piece-by-piece breakup of Yugoslavia, the fact that a Croatian-born player is playing for Bosnia is hardly a surprise.

Brazil (hosts): No foreign-born players.

Cameroon: Benoît Assou-Ekotto, Charles Itandje and Allan Nyom (France); Maxim Choupo-Moting and Joel Matip (Germany).

Chile: Jorge Valdivia (Venezuela), Mark González (South Africa), Matías Fernández (Argentina).

Colombia: No foreign-born players.

Costa Rica: Oscar Duarte (Nicaragua).

Côte d'Ivoire/Ivory Coast: Sol Bamba, Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro and Giovanni Sio (France); Mathis Bolly (Norway).

Croatia: Eduardo da Silva and Sammir Cruz Campos (Brazil, both of whom go by only their first names); Vedran Ćorluka and Dejan Lovren (Bosnia). Croatia was the heart of the former Yugoslavian team.

Ecuador: No foreign-born players.

England: Raheem Sterling (Jamaica -- at least it's the British Commonwealth).

France: Patrice Evra (Senegal), Rio Mavuba (born on a boat fleeing the Angolan civil war, grew up in France).

Germany: Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose (Poland), Cacau (Brazil), Marko Marin (Bosnia & Herzegovina).

Ghana: André and Jordan Ayew (brothers from France), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Germany -- his brother Daniel has played for Germany), Adam Kwarasey (Norway), Albert Adomah (England).

Greece: Loukas Vyntra (Czech Republic), Panagiotis Giorgios Kone (Albania), José Holebas (Germany, in spite of that Spanish-sounding name: Greek mother, Uruguayan father).

Honduras: No foreign-born players.

Iran: Daniel Devari (Germany), Steven Beitashour (America -- San Jose, California, his immigrant parents being an Assyrian Christian father and a Persian Muslim mother).

Italy: Thiago Motta (Brazil), Gabriel Palletta (Argentina).

Japan: Gōtoku Sakai (America -- New York City).

Mexico: Miguel Ángel Ponce and Isaác Brizuela (America -- both from California, the former from Sacramento, the latter from San Jose. Possibly payback for all those U.S. players with Mexican parents?),

Netherlands: Bruno Martens Indi (Portugal, parents from Guinea-Bissau, though has lived in Rotterdam almost his entire life), Jonathan Alexander de Guzman (Canada, the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Ontario).

Nigeria: Peter Odemwingie (Uzbekistan).

Portugal: Pepe (Brazil); Nani (Cape Verde), William Carvalho (Angola), Éder (Guinea-Bissau). Each of those countries was once a Portuguese colony.

Russia: No foreign-born players. Not even players from the other "republics" that once made up the Soviet Union.

South Korea: No foreign-born players.

Spain: Diego Costa (Brazil). No other foreign-born players -- and the team's Catalan and Basque players don't seem too interested in changing that through their regions' independence movements.

Switzerland: Johan Djourou (Côte d'Ivoire), Valon Behrami and Xherdan Shaqiri (Kosovo); Gelson Fernandes (Cape Verde), Blerim Džemaili and Admir Mehmedi (Macedonia). Somebody showed me a graphic saying that, if only players whose grandparents had all been born in Switzerland were eligible. only 3 of the 11 players in the starting lineup for their first World Cup game would have qualified.

Uruguay: Fernando Muslera (Argentina).

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