During qualification for the World Cup, many teams featured foreign-born players. Here are the connections between the national teams. (National Geographic)
What country won the first-ever FIFA World Cup? Hint: They’re in the World Cup this year, and won their first match.
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.
- Take a look at the fantastic graphic above. What are those “regional confederations” color-coded at the top?
- Teams competing in the World Cup must first qualify through football (soccer) organizations grouped by geography. The confederations are largely grouped by continent, with CAF and UEFA, the African and European organizations, boasting the most member organizations (national teams) and UEFA allotted the most available slots in the finals.
- Regional competitions for the 2018 World Cup began in March 2015 and ended in November 2017. There are 32 teams in the World Cup this year, but starting in 2026, that number will increase to 48.
- Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Fourteen teams qualified from UEFA.
- Russia (as hosts, they automatically qualified): won first match over Saudi Arabia
- Germany: lost first match to Mexico
- Spain: tied first match with Portugal
- Belgium: won first match over Panama
- Portugal: tied first match with Spain
- England: won first match over Tunisia
- Poland: first match June 19, v. Senegal
- France: won first match over Australia
- Iceland: tied first match with Argentina
- Serbia: won first match over Costa Rica
- Switzerland: tied first match with Brazil
- Croatia: won first match over Nigeria
- Denmark: won first match over Peru
- Sweden: won first match over South Korea
- Asia Football Confederation (AFC). Five teams qualified from AFC:
- Iran: won first match over Morocco
- Japan: won first match over Colombia
- Saudi Arabia: won first match over Russia
- South Korea: lost first match to Sweden
- Australia: lost first match to France
- Confederation of African Football (CAF). Five teams qualified from CAF:
- South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL). Five teams qualified from CONMEBOL:
- Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). Three teams qualified from CONCACAF:
- Mexico: won first match over Germany
- Costa Rica: lost first match to Serbia
- Panama: lost first round to Belgium
- Oceania Football Confederation (OFC). No teams qualified from OFC.
- What national teams have the largest number of foreign-born players? Take a look at the graphic for some help.
- What patterns seem to emerge when considering foreign-born players on national teams?
- legacy of colonialism. Players born in countries with significant colonial history and migration between administered regions and the “home territory” account for many foreign-born players: France and Senegal, the United Kingdom (including England) and Egypt, Portugal and Brazil, France and Tunisia.
- Why might these patterns not be statistically significant? Take a look at the smart language inside the circle for some help.
- The sample size is far too small. The World Cup features only the most elite national teams, qualifying from hundreds that participated. An academic analysis would consider the entire FIFA ecosystem, not just the 32 teams competing in the World Cup.
- The sample size only includes players from other World Cup teams. Even among the World Cup teams, 35 national teams have foreign-born players who were born in countries that didn’t qualify for the World Cup. (Costa Rican defender Óscar Duarte, for example, was born in Nicaragua, while Japanese defender Gōtoku Sakai was born in New York. Neither Nicaragua nor the United States qualified for the World Cup.)
- How can a player born in one nation play for the national team of another? It’s on page 70 of the FIFA statues here.
- dual citizenship
- The player’s biological mother or father was born in the relevant nation.
- The player’s biological grandmother or grandfather was born in the relevant nation.
- The player has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 in the relevant nation.
- FYI: Once a player has represented the national team in an official competition (such as the World Cup), the player may not change nationalities.
Nat Geo: See Which World Cup Teams Have the Most Foreign-Born Players
Nat Geo: Uruguay Wins the First World Cup
FIFA: 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia: Matches
FIFA: FIFA Statutes
UEFA: Member Associations
AFC: Member Associations
CAF: Member Associations
CONMEBOL: Member Associations
CONCACAF: Member Associations
OFC: Member Associations