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FIFA eligibility rules mean Barcelona star and Spain record-breaker Lamine Yamal could still play for Morocco

Barça winger Yamal became Spain’s youngest ever player and scorer in the Euro 2024 qualifying thrashing of Georgia.

Lamine Yamal celebra su gol en su debut con la Selección española contra Georgia.

Barcelona starlet Lamine Yamal could hardly have dreamt of a better debut for the Spanish national team against Georgia. The winger became the youngest player ever to play for Spain at the age of just 16 years and 57 days when he came on as a substitute for the injured Dani Olmo just before half-time. In the second half, he then took another record, becoming the youngest player to find the net for La Roja in their 7-1 Euro 2024 qualifying win. Despite that, however, FIFA eligibility rules mean Spain haven’t yet tied him down, with Morocco still hoping he will represent them.

Yamal was born in Mataró near Barcelona to a Moroccan father and an Equatorial Guinean mother, which means he could have chosen to play for any one of three national teams. “I’ve always wanted to play for Spain”, claimed the attacker, who has played 21 times for the Spanish youth teams.

How many matches has Lamine Yamal played for Barcelona?

The RFEF (the Spanish Soccer Federation) and head coach Luis de la Fuente are doing everything they can to ensure that’s how things transpire, fending off the threat posed by Morocco, who had been trying to entice Yamal. The teenager was called up to Spain’s senior team despite having only played in five LaLiga games for Barcelona, although his appearance in a competitive match for La Roja isn’t enough to ensure he can’t switch allegiances in the future.

What are FIFA’s eligibility rules for international soccer?

According to FIFA regulations, a soccer player under the age of 21 who has dual nationality can switch national team if they have played no more than than three matches (either competitive fixtures and friendly games) for their “first” country or don’t play for that nation for three years. If the player has, however, participated in an international tournament, such as the World Cup, European Championships or Copa América, they cannot then change.

That means that even if Yamal is involved in Spain’s next game against Cyprus on Tuesday 12 September and their next fixture against Euro 2024 qualifying group leaders Scotland on 12 October, he would still be eligible to change his mind.

The Barça prodigy would have to feature in those two fixtures then play in one more match, potentially against Norway in Oslo on 15 October, to guarantee that he cannot be called up by Morocco.

FIFA change rules after Munir El Haddadi case

If, for whatever reason, Yamal were to go on to represent Morocco in the future, it would not be the first time a player had switched away from Spain after making their senior debut.

In 2014, Munir El Haddadi, another Barcelona youngster, came on in the second half of a Euro 2016 qualifying game against North Macedonia which, according to eligibility rules at the time, meant he could no longer represent any other country in the future. The Moroccan soccer federation, however, argued the Madrid-born player, whose parents are Moroccan, should be eligible to switch due to him being under 21.

The matter went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who initially dismissed Morocco’s attempts to call him up, which ultimately prompted FIFA to change their eligibility rules, mainly for the benefit of young players who are capped by one country early in their careers before falling out of the reckoning.

Munir, now 28 and playing for Las Palmas in LaLiga, was eventually cleared to represent Morocco in March 2021 and has since gone on to play in 11 matches for the Atlas Lions, scoring twice. He didn’t feature at the 2022 World Cup, when the African side shocked the world by reaching the semi-finals, where they lost to France.