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In the past, soccer players could switch national teams almost as they wished. For example, Alfredo Di Stéfano played for the official all ages argentine, colombian and spanish national teams. Later, FIFA set more restrictions, so in situations like the one of Lionel Messi, the Argentine Football Association wanted him to play for the Under 20 argentine national team, so he wouldnt be eligible for other national teams. But after that, players like Juan Iturbe played for the paraguayan U-20, later for the argentine U-20, and finally for the official all ages paraguayan national team.

In which situations is a soccer player allowed to switch national teams?

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In general, the rules regarding this are pretty simple.

From the FIFA Statutes (2019) under the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes - Article 5:

1. Any person holding a permanent nationality that is not dependent on residence in a certain country is eligible to play for the representative teams of the association of that country.

2. With the exception of the conditions specified in article 8 below, any player who has already participated in a match (either in full or in part) in an official competition of any category or any type of football for one association may not play an international match for a representative team of another association.

So if a player has represented a nation under the terms of a competitive match (ie a tournament, or qualification for a tournament), they cannot then play for another nation.

Note, this doesn't appear to apply for non-senior age ranges, so you could play for Argentina U-20 in the U-20 World Cup, but then still play for the Paraguay senior team at the senior World Cup, for example.

There is one main exception to this, as noted in Article 8:

2. If a player who has been fielded by his association in an international match in accordance with art. 5 par. 2 permanently loses the nationality of that country without his consent or against his will due to a decision by a government authority, he may request permission to play for another association whose nationality he already has or has acquired.


If a player has not represented an Association in a competitive match, then they may switch which Association they represent, assuming they can claim nationality for the Association (see below), under Article 8:

1. If a player has more than one nationality, or if a player acquires a new nationality, or if a player is eligible to play for several representative teams due to nationality, he may, only once, request to change the association for which he is eligible to play international matches to the association of another country of which he holds nationality


Claiming Nationalities is explained in Articles 6 and 7.

Article 6 covers players that are eligible to play for more than one Association because of their nationality.

For example, being British would allow a player to be able to play for either England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, as long as they also meet at least one of the following criteria:

a) He was born on the territory of the relevant association;

b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant association;

c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant association;

d) He has lived continuously on the territory of the relevant association for at least two years

Article 7 covers players wanting to claim a new nationality. Players must meet at least one of the following criteria to qualify:

a) He was born on the territory of the relevant association;

b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant association;

c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant association;

d) He has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant association.

  • And what "a competitive match" is supposed to mean? – Pablo Dec 29 '19 at 17:16
  • @Pablo - basically any game that is not considered a friendly game, so a tournament game, or qualifying game for the tournament - eg European Championship Qualifier, World Cup, Copa America etc. – ImClarky Dec 29 '19 at 18:01

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