England’s united nations of football: 32 teams, one World Cup – and a lot of excited kids

Young people with roots in each nation playing in Qatar show off their teams’ new kits and talk about being the only one in the playground rooting for Croatia or Costa Rica. Photographs by Fabio De Paola


Toby Donald, 11
Toby lives in Salisbury, but used to live in Catalonia (near his hero Lionel Messi). He saw Argentina win the Copa América against Brazil in 2021.

My mum is from Argentina and my dad is from England – if they meet in this World Cup, it will be fun to watch them arguing! My mum went to the stadium in Buenos Aires to see a game in the 1978 tournament, when she was younger than me. She’s always telling me about people celebrating in the street when Argentina won.

My friends know how much I love Argentinian football. My favourite players are, of course, Messi, Dybala, Acuña and “Dibu” Martínez, who plays for Aston Villa. Every time Argentina plays, I will wear the full kit, putting paper flags that I’ve printed around the house. If they get knocked out, I will support England, and either South Korea or Portugal.

Toby Donald from Salisbury playing football on a residential street wearing an blue-and-white striped Argentina shirt
‘Every time Argentina play, I will wear the full kit’ says Toby Donald from Salisbury. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

I have some aspects of Argentinian culture in me since I love tereré and mate, which are like green tea. Tereré is made with cold water and fruit flavours, and mate with hot water. Mum’s friend has an Argentinean food truck in Folkestone, and she makes me churros. During the matches, we will eat empanadas, too.

I use a lot of vocabulary from Argentina, and have my mom’s accent. I am happy about my dual nationality. It was my idea – this year we went to the consulate, so I am also Argentinian now. I have a passport, so when I am a professional footballer, I can play for Argentina.


Wilf Dehlsen, six, and Archie Dehlsen, 10

Wilf and Archie Dehlsen wearing yellow Australia shirts

Wilf and Archie’s mum is Australian, but has been in London for 16 years. Their English dad’s parents are from New Zealand and Australia. The boys were born in the UK and only have UK passports.

Archie My favourite Australian players are the ones I know from the Premier League, such as Matthew Ryan and Aaron Mooy. I can’t wait to see how far they get. It’s a tough group with France and Denmark, but you never know. We’ll be cheering Australia on, wearing our kit – and FaceTiming our cousins in Australia at the same time! If there’s a match on at the weekend, we will probably be with our Australian friends to watch it, maybe at the pub. If they get knocked out, I will be supporting England as this is my home and I’ve lived here all my life. I think Daddy will support England all the way, but Mummy will support Australia. I love football. I play four times a week. I’ve been to Australia a few times and can’t wait to go back.

Wilf I don’t remember the last World Cup because I was too young, but I’m really excited. It’s clever that Australia are called the Socceroos – it’s like soccer and a kangaroo mixed up. My favourite Australian food is Vegemite toast. If Australia gets knocked out, I’ll support England because I’m half-English. If Australia wins, I’ll celebrate hard. I love playing football in the garden with Archie!


Orson Berthier Ronald, five

Orson Berthier Ronald standing against a wall with his foot on a football, wearing the red-and-black Belgium kit

Orson was born and lives in London. His father is English and his mother is Belgian-American, but recently became a UK citizen. Orson speaks English and French at home and goes to a local children’s football class. He loves a kickabout in the square with parents and his younger brother, Lucian, Maman and Papa.

I’m Belgian, English and American, and I can draw all the flags. All three teams are playing, but I’ll support Belgium and wear my strip. I like the way the “B” has been done on it – it’s clever. Papa supports England, so if Belgium play them, we’ll be shouting for different teams.

I’d like to watch the games with Nanou [Orson’s grandmother], but she lives in Waterloo, in Belgium. If Belgium get to the final, I’ll invite my friend Julius to watch it with us, even though he supports Sweden. We’ll have Belgian food. I could make some madeleines with Maman, and we could have gaufres (waffles) with sugar and lemon. Papa would have moules et frites – I’d just have the frites.


Nicholas Goncalves-Newman, 14

Nicholas Goncalves-Newman Brazil sitting on a bed wearing a yellow-and-green Brazil shirt and with a Brazilian flag on the wall behind him

Nick’s Brazilian parents moved to the UK in 2005 from a small town called Amambai, and he was born in Hastings, where he still lives. His grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins live in Brazil – he’s visited three or four times and plans to spend more time there. Nick talks to his Brazilian cousins in Portuguese, but he admits he understands more than he can speak, and sometimes has to use Google Translate.

I’ve watched clips from the 70s on YouTube, with players like Pelé, as well as more recent ones featuring the likes of Ronaldo. It’s cool to support the most successful World Cup team ever, but I know they’re not invincible – I’ve watched the 2014 game where they lost 7-1 to Germany.

My older sister, Pietra, isn’t interested in football, but likes the World Cup. I might have some friends round; some have Brazil shirts. I can imagine my parents inviting some of their friends, too, and having a bit of a party.

Football is a real passion in Brazil – everyone seems to love it. My cousins are good players and all talk about how they dream of being professionals. But there are more opportunities over here to become a professional player than in Brazil.

I’ve seen Brazil and England twice at Wembley. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember much. I watch lots of local matches. My dad plays for a local team and I play for Hastings Athletic. I’m a midfielder – sometimes I play left, sometimes right. I train three times a week and we’re all right – we’re winning some of our games. It’s not something I’d ever do professionally, though. I’m more into music. I play piano, and one day I’d like to set up a studio and hopefully get to write my own songs.


Peace-Hillary Nsangou, 12

Peace-Hillary Nsangou in a school corridor wearing a green Cameroon football shirt and holding a ball

Peace-Hillary was born in the UK to Cameroonian parents. She visited the country with her family in 2016.

I’m proud that my country is playing in the World Cup this year. I’ll be watching with my family: my mum, my dad and maybe my sisters and uncle. My dad is a big football fan – he used to play for a club in Cameroon. I’m really looking forward to seeing how far Cameroon get this year, as I’m too young to remember much about the last time they appeared. I think they’ll do well.

I last visited Cameroon in 2016, when I was six. It was such a fun place to go because so many of my family live there, so it felt very welcoming. I visited my grandma’s place and the gravestones of some of my family. We spent most of the time in the countryside on a farm where there were sheep and chickens; it was so different to my life in London. I was scared of the chickens, though, and it was very hot. There were a lot of bugs.


Ivan Gonzales Wiley, eight, and Marvin Callahan Wiley, 10

Ivan and Marvin Wiley in their garden wearing red Canada World Cup shirts

Ivan and Marvin have a Canadian mother and a British father, who was a ballboy for Charlton Athletic when he was Marvin’s age (he remains a Charlton fan and once won £2,000 in their half-time raffle). The brothers were born in the UK and live on the south coast.

Ivan I play football every lunchtime. I’m not sure what position I play, probably left wing or something. I have a special celebratory handshake that I do with my team when we win.

Marvin I love being a striker. And when I’m in goal, when I save the ball, it’s really satisfying.

Ivan We’re really looking forward to watching Canada – it’s the first time they’ve qualified since the 1980s.

Marvin We’ll make our older sister, Juno, watch as well – she’s 13 and not that interested, but she does play pretty well when we have a kickabout in the garden. We might have some Canadian food and drinks like poutine (french fries with cheese curds and gravy) and root beer.

Ivan I hate poutine and root beer. Coffee Crisp bars and Kool-Aid?

Marvin Maybe Granny will send us some Cheezies. Mum suggested painting our faces with the Canadian flag, but I’m not keen on face paints. She also suggested turning our white cat, Coconut, red. I think she was joking ……

Ivan We watched some of the friendlies and saw Canada beat Qatar. That was pretty good, because Qatar is the host country. My favourite Canadian players are Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David. I saw a video where Alphonso got an amazing goal – there was a 1% chance of him scoring, but he did it.

Marvin I like Atiba Hutchinson. He’s the captain and a great midfielder. If Canada get knocked out before England, I’ll support England instead.

Ivan My best friend, Henry, is part-Norwegian, and my mum’s great-grandparents moved to Canada from Ukraine, so I would support Norway or Ukraine, but neither of them qualified.

Marvin We have family in Canada, and they’re quite carefree. Their attitude is: “It might be fun – let’s do it.” We drove a boat when we were there.

Ivan We rode a rollercoaster down a mountain, too. We also threw axes.

Costa Rica

Zion Williams Monge, five, and Siara Williams Monge, three

Zion and Siara Williams Monge wearing red and white Costa Rica World Cup shirts and standing against a wall in their bedroom with a football beside them and a large doll’s house to one side

Zion and Siara were born in the UK to a Costa Rican mother and Jamaican father. They live in Nottingham. Zion has been to Costa Rica twice, Siara has yet to visit, due to the pandemic. The girls stay in touch with their family there, including their maternal grandparents (Tita Carmen and Tito Pablo). They also have a lot of social contact with the Costa Rican community in the UK, as well as their paternal grandparents (who they call Tito Tony and Tita Audrey). They speak Spanish at home.

Zion I remember going to Tita Carmen’s in Costa Rica. There were green parrots, and we had chicken and rice. I like helping Mummy and Daddy cook. I help make tortilla sometimes, and gallo pinto (rice and beans).

Siara I like to eat tortilla, and Jamaican dumpling.

Zion We went to the Costa Rican independence party in London. Grandad and Grandma and Auntie came with us.

Siara The ladies were dancing, and we danced in a circle.

Zion We play football with Mummy and Daddy and their friends. I think Daddy plays best, but I’m good at taking the ball.

Siara We’ll watch the games with Tito Tony and Tita Audrey at their house. We’ll wear our Costa Rica tops. Mine says Siara on the back. Tito Pablo got it for me.

Zion I want to buy a little one for Luana, our baby cousin.

Siara When we’re watching the World Cup, we can eat some popcorn.

Zion I like popcorn!


Max Stanić, 11

Max Stanić wearing the red-and-white Croatia World Cup shirt and standing behind a table football game at home

Max was born in London, but has lived in Zagreb, where his parents are from. He is fluent in Croatian and supports Dinamo Zagreb and Liverpool. He plays football for Brent Dynamo United, and likes that his own team have Dynamo in their name.

During the 2018 World Cup, we were in London and watched all the Croatia games with our friends, who are from all different parts of the world: England, Croatia, Japan, Portugal. The best thing was when our friends came over from Croatia. One of my best friends is Buga, who is the same age as me and also loves football.

When Croatia played against England in the semi-final, we decided not to watch it with our football teammates because it could get too emotional. It was strange coming to school the next day. I was very proud and happy, but some of my friends were upset that England lost.

When it came to the final, we watched together with my teammates and their parents, and everyone cheered for Croatia. I was too nervous to watch the whole game. It was very sad to have lost, but I was happy that my team had made it to the finals. Croatia is a very small country – with 4 million people, it is like half a London – so it was a huge achievement.

We will watch the games in Qatar at home or with friends. We have friends from Croatia and England, but also many other countries. My uncle and his family are in Canada, and Croatia and Canada are in the same group, but we will be cheering for Croatia of course! If Croatia get knocked out, I will follow England, as many of my friends will be cheering for them.


Laura Smart, 15, and Bess Smart, 12

Laura and Bess Smart standing in front of a metal fence wearing red Danish World Cup shirts

Bess and Laura live with their Danish mum and English dad. The girls and their mum all have British and Danish dual nationality.

Laura There are occasions which bring out my Danish identity, mainly Christmas and birthdays which see the house festooned in Danish flags, candles and pastries. But there are also wider events which awaken my Danishness – Eurovision, noir TV and the World Cup.

Football is Denmark’s national sport – though we are tiny, we pack a punch! But we take our social values seriously, and this year our away kit is a subdued black to reflect the controversy of Qatar. And if Denmark get kicked out in the first round I’ll have the luxury of supporting England with Dad.

Bess I like having dual nationality, as it gives a richer sense of identity. I also sometimes count up the fractions of other identities I have – Irish and Swedish – and I like to hear stories of my great-grandparents, who were travelling diplomats. I like to embrace all the diverse multicultural activities at school. So when the World Cup is on, the thing I like most is the unifying sense of many countries all coming together. It’s what the world needs now.


Juan Alejandro Pachar Carmona, 10, and Juan Esteban Pachar Carmona, seven

Juan Alejandro Pachar Carmona and Juan Esteban Pachar Carmona, wearing the Equador World Cup kit sitting on a top bunk bed at home with lots of trophies and medals on a shelf behind them

Alejandro and Esteban’s Colombian mother moved to the UK 20 years ago, and their Ecuadorian dad arrived here five years later. The boys have family in both countries, which they visited when they were younger. They live in Sutton, but have daily contact with their relatives via FaceTime and speak Spanish fluently.

Esteban We are planning to watch Ecuador play while surrounded with family and friends, and I’m hoping my granddad cooks a lovely hornado (roast pig) for us.

Alejandro If Ecuador get knocked out, we’ll carry on watching – football is our passion. I will support Brazil, Argentina and France instead. Outside of the World Cup, my favourite team is Real Madrid – I don’t miss any games.

Esteban Not all of our relatives support Ecuador – part of our family is from Poland, and they want their team to win. I’m sure Ecuador will do better, though.

We know Jeremy Sarmiento who plays for Brighton & Hove Albion and Ecuador. Brighton have several Ecuadorian players and we often watch their games.

Alejandro We’ve known Sarmiento for such a long time. He is my role model. My dream is to one day play alongside him in La Tri (the Ecuador team).


Yeray Sanchez Morales, 14

Yeray Sanchez wearing an England shirt and standing against a metal fence with a playground behind it

Yeray was born in Spain, but both his parents are Colombian. He moved to London when he was seven. Yeray likes playing both football and basketball.

The last Word Cup feels a long time ago, and I didn’t enjoy that one much, as England got as far as the semi-finals but didn’t win. I’ll be supporting England as I really appreciate the opportunities I’ve had since moving here. I’ve lived in the UK for nearly eight years, and feel really attached to this country – my mum and I love tea and have teatime every day.

I’ll be watching the whole tournament at home and my cousins are going to come round and watch with me. My favourite England player is Bukayo Saka. I really admire his perseverance. He gets bullied online, but he keeps going and proves his critics wrong.

Colombia didn’t qualify this year, so if England get knocked out before Spain, that’s the team I’ll support instead, as that’s where I was born. I think my dad will be supporting Spain. If England and Spain end up playing each other, I’m just going to tell him that he’s going to lose.


Adam Tounsi, 11

Adam Tounsi standing in a residential street wearing the France kit and throwing a football in the air

Adam’s mum and dad both have Algerian parents but were born in France. Adam goes to French school on Saturdays and speaks French fluently at home.

My grandparents live near Grenoble in the French Alps. We visit them at Christmas and in the summer – it’s hotter than in England and the mountains are very beautiful. Sometimes we go swimming.

I remember France winning the 2018 World Cup, and I’ve watched the game since. We beat Croatia 4-2. I’ve seen the 1998 win, too, where we beat Brazil 3-0 on home turf.

Even though France have been winning nearly all their games recently, they have lost to some smaller teams. They’ve been playing pretty well, but not to their full potential.

I like N’Golo Kanté, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé best because they play well, they play fairly, and they don’t fight.

I do think we stand a very good chance of winning again this year, and if we do I’ll scream out: “Yeah! France won!” Whether I’ll scream it in English or French, I don’t know.


Rebecca Eichler, nine

Rebecca Eichler wearing a Germanyshirt and standing in a room decorated with footballs, scarves and posters

Rebecca lives in Hastings with her mum, Jackie, who moved to the UK from Germany when she was three. She is one of only two girls who play for the Hastings Wanderers U10s.

I really like being a quarter German, especially at Christmas when we have our St Nicholas stockings early – on 6 December! Most of the things my friends do on Christmas Day, we do on Christmas Eve. We have real candles on the tree, which some people think looks hazardous.

I’m pleased to support Germany – they’re a really good team with lots of squad depth. Players like Neuer and Müller have been playing for a while – in fact this is probably their last chance at a World Cup. But they also have youngsters who haven’t played in the World Cup yet, and they should also get a chance, like Jamal Musiala. I think Germany will at least make the semis or quarter-finals, and they could go all the way.

I know one girl at school who’s supporting Germany. It would be harder to support England because they don’t do that well sometimes. Germany have better teamwork – they’re better at passing. Thomas Müller is my favourite player: he’s funny and likes to assist a lot – his nickname is “the assist king”. I try to play like him. This is my fourth year playing with Hastings Wanderers. It’s a mixed team, but until recently I was the only girl. My mum sometimes coaches us, which feels odd, but she’s doing quite a good job.


Benedith Gyanfiduah, 14

Benedith Gyanfiduah wearing a white Ghana shirt with both arms held up and looking up to the heavens

Benedith was born in Italy and raised in England, but his parents are from Ghana. He enjoys football and basketball at school.

I remember France winning in 2018. Unfortunately, Ghana didn’t qualify that time – I was very unimpressed, as usually they’re a really good team and it was disappointing to see them slip. I’ve watched the game from 2010, when Ghana played Uruguay. If we’d won, we would have been the first African team to make the semi-finals.

My favourite player was Michael Essien – he’s the reason I like Chelsea as well. I’m excited to see how the team do this year, but I’ll be happy to back England if Ghana get knocked out first – I was raised here, after all. My uncle and his wife will be coming round to watch with us, and we’ll have Ghanaian food like jollof rice and fufu [a side dish made from cassava and plantain].

I haven’t visited Ghana since I was very young, when I met my grandma and cousins, which made me very happy. I like the people there. We are a very peaceful, down-to-earth nation.


Tinoosh Simpkins, 15

Tinoosh Simpkins clenching his fists in excitement while wearing a white Iran shirt and standing in a room with two guitars on the wall behind him

Tinoosh was born in London to an Iranian mother and British father. He’s a fan of Arsenal, the first team he ever watched, even though his mum thinks he should support his local team, Crystal Palace.

I’m the only one who watches football in my family. My dad’s not into it, and my brother stopped liking it after he got hit in the stomach with a football three times in a row. He and Dad do watch World Cup games, though, and so does Mum when Iran are playing. I support both Iran and England.

During the last World Cup I was only 10, but I remember watching Iran play in the group stages. We have snacks while watching the games, like pistachios which my grandma Maman Farideh brings back when she goes on trips to Iran. We store them in the freezer and only get them out for special occasions. We also have ajil, which is a mix of nuts and seeds such as pumpkin, melon and sunflower seeds. You can get salty or sweet ajil – the sweet kind also has dried fruit like raisins and mulberries. My favourite snack is Iranian Wotsits, which are called Pofak. I nag my parents to buy Pofak whenever we go to Iranian grocers, and to order chelo kabab from Iranian restaurants.

I was only one when I last went to Iran, and I don’t remember it. Iranians really like football, and my mum’s family found it strange that my dad doesn’t watch it. They even follow the Premier League. Iran did OK last time – it was very exciting to see them get their first win since 1998. My mum was really angry when we had a goal disallowed against Spain.


Iena Mirto, nine, and Yuji Mirto, 12

Iena and Yuji Mirto wearing blue Japan shirts and standing in front of a hanging depicting a pagoda

Iena and Yuji live in Brighton with their Japanese mother and Italian father. Their favourite member of the Japanese squad is Kaoru Mitoma because he plays for their local team, Brighton & Hove Albion.

Iena I’m going to make a banner with the Japanese flag on and put it up in the living room. Hopefully Mum will make udon noodles and sushi for us during the matches – they’re my favourites.

Yuji I’ll be wearing the strip and cheering the team on!

Iena We’ve never lived in Japan, but we visit every year or two. We love Japanese technology and anime, especially Studio Ghibli.

Yuji We have dual nationality, Japanese and British, and our dad is Italian, so we’re happy to cheer on all three teams. I will scream a lot if Japan wins.

Iena I’ll be screaming with joy, but also from the shock.


Diego Bastian Cornejo-Kersten, nine

Diego Cornejo-Kersten in his bedroom wearing a green Mexico shirt and holding a Mexican flag behind him

Diego was born in Mexico City and moved to the UK during the last World Cup. He has a Mexican father and German mother, and speaks English, German and Spanish fluently. Diego plays football at home with his younger sister and also at school, where he likes being in goal best, but enjoys scoring goals as a midfielder.

We were still in Mexico when El Tri beat Germany in 2018. Me and Dad were wearing the Mexican shirt, and my mum and sister the German shirt. I was very excited to see Mexico win, but sad to see my mum disappointed.

When we arrived in the UK I didn’t speak a word of English, so I had to learn really quickly. Now my teachers can’t believe I couldn’t speak English just a few years ago. We usually visit Mexico once a year, and I love spending time with my grandma and grandpa – but England is my home now. I love that I am a mix of cultures.

I’m proud to follow El Tri. My favourite Mexican player of all time is Jorge Campos, an amazing goalkeeper who let almost no goals in. His outfit was very colourful, and I think it was great because it distracted the players of the opposing team. Although he doesn’t play any more, I love watching videos of him on YouTube.

I love Chucky Lozano’s energy: he never stops running after the ball, and he is the one who scored against Germany – sorry, Mum!

I really hope Mexico win the World Cup, but we usually get knocked out quickly. If that happens, I will support Germany, though I also follow England. My favourite English player is Raheem Sterling, and my favourite German one is Bastian Schweinsteiger. My name is actually Diego Bastian, like him.


Badr Riane, 11

Badr Riane wearing a red-and-green Morocco shirt over his school uniform and standing in a playground

Badr was born in the UK to Moroccan parents. They speak Arabic at home.

My whole family gets together to watch Morocco play. We didn’t do that well at the last World Cup, but you always feel that Morocco are trying really hard.

I love visiting Morocco because the weather’s so good. It’s a tropical climate and I love the beaches – they’re so clean. I feel proud of my heritage because Morocco is a strong country. Moroccans understand each other, and always try to help each other. If I had to pick one word to describe the country it would be “joyful”.

I have enough Moroccan friends in London to have a big celebration if we win. If we don’t get further than we did in 2018, I’ll support Brazil – their team includes most of my favourite players.

The Netherlands

Lasse van de Lagemaat, seven

Lasse van de Lagemaat wearing a Netherlandsshirt and standing with a football, with his arms and legs outstretched in a garden

Lasse is the youngest of four siblings who were born in the Netherlands but live in Woking. Lasse supports the Oranje, Arsenal, because most of his school friends do, and Feyenoord.

I was a toddler for the last World Cup and the Netherlands didn’t qualify. But I got to wear orange for last year’s Euros and for the Orange Lionesses) this year. I made some Dutch flags, and at school we made English flags, and I waved them when we watched the final. My brother and my dad went to a Dutch pub in London to watch the Oranje play.

We did well in the Nations League and won against Belgium, which is important for us. At the Euros, we were not as good as England, and I was bullied a bit by my friends for wearing my orange kit to the after-school club. But in the last games, Oranje won and England lost, so now I can tell my friends the Netherlands is better than England.

My favourite player is Vivianne Miedema, because she plays for Oranje and Arsenal. When I play football with my dad and siblings, I want to be Arsenal, and my dad’s Feyenoord.

We’re going to watch the matches at home. I think I’ll make some decorations with my brother and sisters. This time the World Cup is when we’re celebrating St Nicholas, so we’ll eat pepernoten [spiced biscuits]. When we reach the semis or the finals, my dad will take us to a Dutch pub to watch, or the Dutch Church, where he is the minister. I hope we’ll win so I can celebrate with my cousins when we’re in Holland at Christmas.


Bruno Tiger Taylor, three, and George Taylor, six

Bruno and George Taylor looking very happy and excited, wearing white Poland shirts against a dark green wall, with a yellow Tonka truck beside them on the wooden floor

George and Bruno were born in the UK to a Polish mother and English father. Football is at the heart of their Polish family, who they visit every year in Płock, on the Vistula river. George plays football with his older cousin, Maciej, who helps him practice his tackling, and although young, Bruno is an agile player who can put up a fight.

George When we’re in Poland, I watch football on TV with my dziadek [grandad]. He likes Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, and so does my grandma. Last summer we wanted to see a Wisła Płock game, but they weren’t playing at home while we were there. We’ve been to the stadium in Warsaw, though and maybe we’ll see them play next year. My favourite Polish player is Robert Lewandowski. He’s at FC Barcelona, and he is very fast and keeps scoring goals. I hope Matty Cash [Poland’s England-born right back] will be playing, too.

Bruno We’re going to wear our football tops to watch the World Cup.

George We’ll paint our faces in red and white, too, like Polish flags. We’ll have a party if we win and eat kiełbasa [sausage], kaszanka [blood sausage] and bigos [stew].

Bruno We’ll sing, “Polska, Biało-Czerwoni,” and clap and shout “Polska!”


Gabriel Almeida, 14

Gabriel Almeida with his arms outstretched, wearing a red-and-green Portugal shirt

Gabriel was born in Portugal and moved to the UK when he was four. He speaks Portuguese and says there was never any doubt who he’d support: “I’ve always been Portuguese and always will be.”

I never miss any game they play if I can help it. Portugal beating France in the Euro finals in 2016 was one of the best moments of my life. My favourite player is Cristiano Ronaldo, because what he’s done throughout the years is incredible.

I’m a keen footballer. I’m in my school team – we won our last game even though the other team cheated. I’ve also played for Arsenal for the past six months. I dream of one day playing for Portugal. I go back during the holidays and love it there.

I won’t miss a Portugal game – I just want to see my team win. If they did get knocked out – and they won’t – I’d support Brazil, because their fans speak the same language. I look forward to celebrating Portugal’s victory with other fans. There’s a big Portuguese community in London, and I remember them celebrating all down the South Lambeth Road last time we won the Euros – more than a thousand people singing and chanting. There are other Portuguese students at my school, so I’ll make sure they’ll all be supporting the team. If they won’t, it’s a disgrace!


Ali Khalid Al-Mawlawi, 22

Ali Khalid Al-Mawlawi wearing a Qatar shirt

Ali is a third-year student studying law in London. After his degree, he plans to move back to Qatar to work in the energy sector.

I’ve been into football since I was born. Literally the first thing I ever wore was a tiny kit from one of the local teams. When I was younger, I used to mostly be a supporter of the Spanish league, but then I grew up and realised the English league is the best. I didn’t want to be a glory-hunter, supporting United, for example, when Fergie was in charge – it was not what I stand for. So I tried to find a team I had a link with.

My great-uncle studied in Durham in the 60s and 70s, and his team was Sunderland. He saw them win the FA Cup in 1973. So that’s the team I chose. They’re doing really well under their new French owner. They’re in the championship and I hope they get the qualifiers this year. I haven’t seen them play while I’ve been in London – home games are four hours each way on the train, so I keep hoping they’ll play a London team like QPR.

I played a lot of football throughout my school years and was a junior varsity player. I’ve been to a couple of tournaments abroad and dreamed of training at the Aspire Academy in Doha. I have cousins who are there, but my father wanted me to continue with my studies. But Qataris have a huge love for football – everyone in Doha has a fantasy league. Everyone!

When Qatar was announced as hosts in 2010, I was at my uncle’s house watching with my cousins and we all ran out into the street – the whole neighbourhood seemed to be out there. It was beautiful. This is the national team’s first time in the World Cup, but we’ve been doing well under Félix Sánchez. We had a great victory in 2019 at the Asian Cup.

I’ve been to many of the new stadiums, and actually volunteered for the Fifa Club World Cup and studied at Education City, where one of the stadiums is located. The country’s infrastructure has developed at an insane rate over the past 10 years in the run-up to the tournament, and every time I go back to Doha for a vacation it feels like a different city – I keep getting lost. I’m not blind to the controversies surrounding that, but I do think Qatar has come under the spotlight more than some nations that have hosted the World Cup, such as Russia, Brazil and South Africa. I do think the light that has been shone upon workers’ rights in Qatar has led to positive changes, such as the abolition of the kafala system. I don’t accept that most Qataris have a problem with people being gay either, it’s more about public displays of affection in general. We are a conservative country and a new nation, and all we want is for people to be patient with us.

I’ll be watching most of the World Cup in London, though I have a ticket for the final in Qatar – I just need to get permission from my professor to go! We wish all the best for Saudis and Moroccans, too – it’s beautiful to see Arabs doing well in football. And of course I’ll be watching with lots of England supporters. It would be great if they bring it back home, because I want to see the English people happy. But on the down-low, I actually support Brazil.

Saudi Arabia

Rowaid Mohammed Islam, six

Rowaid Mohammed Islam wearing a Saudi Arabia shirt and holding a football, standing against a wall in which his reflection can be seen

Rowaid was born in Saudi Arabia and moved to the UK with his parents four years ago. He lives in Sheffield

I like to play football at school with my friends, Maxim and Popy. I’m good at passing and I’m a good goalkeeper – I save lots of balls. I might like to keep on playing when I’m older and perhaps one day I could play for Saudi Arabia or England.

I still visit Saudi Arabia and I have family and friends there, who I like playing ping pong with. I play ping pong all day. I’m as good at that as I am at football. I’m going to watch with Dad and Mummy, and we’ll wear our Saudi Arabia football tops. I like that they’re green!


Mark Mohammed Fall, 13

Mark Mohammed Fall sitting crosslegged on his bed wearing a Senegal shirt, with football posters on the wall

Mark Mohammed was born in Dakar, Senegal, and moved to London when he was very young. He last visited Senegal when he was eight or nine. He plays for a local team in east London, training two days a week, and is also a ballboy for Arsenal, who he also supports.

My favourite thing about Senegal is the food. My dad and his friends often cook Senegalese food. I remember watching the Senegal-Japan game in 2018 in a restaurant with my dad and his friends.

I also remember the Colombia game – the saddest time during that World Cup for me. We got knocked out of the group because of too many yellow cards! We were tied on goal difference with Japan, I think, and points.

I haven’t been able to watch any of Senegal’s international games recently because it’s very hard to find the right websites to watch them on. But I do always follow the live score updates.

I think we have a good chance this year – a lot of our players are playing in the top divisions and are on good form. I also like to see some of the older players like Messi and Neymar do really well during the World Cup because I grew up watching them.


Eddie, four

Eddie in a garden wearing a Serbia shirt

Eddie’s grandad is from Serbia and met his English grandmother in Paris in the 1970s. Grandad is a big Red Star Belgrade and Manchester United fan. Eddie started playing football in the U4 squad for his local grassroots team in Essex last year.

When it’s not the World Cup and I watch football with Daddy, we have crisps. I support Serbia and England, and think they’re both going to win. I quite like the trophy – it’s gold and really shiny.

I’m going to put flags up in the window so everyone knows we support Serbia and England. Grandad and Uncle Rich live in Manchester, but when we score a goal I’ll celebrate with them on the phone. And when we win, I’ll run around like an aeroplane.

South Korea

Noah Ji-Ha Shin, 12

Noah Ji-Ha Shin holding a football and wearing goalkeeper’s gloves and a red South Korea shirt

Noah is a keen goalkeeper who, like his dad, was born and raised in the UK. His mum is originally from South Korea.

It was so exciting when South Korea knocked out Germany in 2018. I remember everyone was celebrating, especially my mum, who was screaming at the TV and clapping her hands.My dad showed me a documentary about the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, when they knocked out Italy. Ji-Sung Park was really good, and he played for Manchester United, who I support. The Korean crowds were so passionate, and my parents said the atmosphere was amazing.

Because this tournament is happening during the winter we might watch it with our grandparents, who know nothing about football but love watching Korea play in the World Cup. They get really emotional and excited. Most of my family is in Korea, so I visit Seoul during summer holidays. We eat tasty Korean food and go mountain hiking, as my grandma loves it. She teaches me Korean before I go to sleep as I’m so bad at it. I like how advanced the technology is in Seoul. Everything is so convenient. We even got served by robots in a noodle shop in Myeongdong!


Nico, six, and Candela Lorenzo, 16

Nico and Candela Lorenzo standing on a large balcony wearing red Spain shirts

Nico and Candela moved from Madrid to the UK with their Spanish parents in 2019. Nico was only three and considers himself “almost British”, though he supports Spain. He attends London’s Spanish Way FC academy twice a week. Candela loves London and says she would no longer wish to live anywhere else, though both siblings enjoy visiting family in Spain in the summer and at Christmas. Candela is a more casual football player, but a talented one.

Candela I remember Spain getting knocked out of the last World Cup by Russia. It was infuriating, as we played really well, but had bad luck when it ended in a penalty shootout. I actually cried.

Nico I’m too young to remember much from back then, but I get very excited when I watch La Roja play. Sometimes I shout at the TV and encourage the players – I tell them off as well when I think they deserve it.

Candela Our grandad and auntie are fans of Atlético de Madrid, and the rest of the family supports Real Madrid, so things can get argumentative. But when they wear the Spanish shirt, the whole family gets behind La Roja.

Nico I just want them to score goals and I get frustrated if they don’t. I think my sister is happy if they just play a good game.

Candela We’ll be watching the matches together at home and preparing some Spanish food or maybe pizza. If Spain wins we’ll have a proper party – invite lots of Spanish friends round and really celebrate with a big meal.

Nico I’ll be jumping around like crazy and shouting if we win. I think she will too, actually.


Louis Hoogenboom, nine, Vincent Hoogenboom, 12, and Eliana Hoogenboom, 16

Louis, Vincent and Eliana Hoogenboom wearing red-and-white Switzerland shirts outside at dusk

Eliana, Vincent and Louis live in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Their mother is from Switzerland and their father from the Netherlands. Eliana was born in Basel, her siblings were both born in the UK. All three speak Italian and Dutch.

Vincent I remember some of the 2018 World Cup, particularly Switzerland vs Brazil. I felt great that they drew, as Brazil is one of the strongest teams. I was happy when they qualified this year, though they’ll be facing a tough group with Brazil again and Serbia.

Louis It’s great to see Switzerland qualify, as it’s a small country, but one of the best teams – we’re 15th in the Fifa rankings.

Eliana The Netherlands and England have qualified, too, so all the teams I support are taking part.

Louis I am looking forward to seeing Fabian Schär, because he’s a great team player. I think Juergen Sommer has a great focus as a goalkeeper – he doesn’t let through many balls!

Vincent I want to see Renato Steffen as he plays for Lugano, a club in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, where our mum is from.

Eliana I hope we watch it with other Swiss people and maybe have raclette, a traditional melted-cheese dish. It’s always nice to celebrate with other people.

Vincent I was born in England, but feel very connected to Switzerland, as half of my extended family lives there – I still have two great-grandmothers. I speak weekly with my friend from Ticino [a Swiss-Italian canton], and we were recently chatting about the 1-1 draw between Switzerland and Italy in the World Cup qualifiers that prevented Italy qualifying for the World Cup.

Louis I love going to Switzerland to see my family and my friends – we go there every summer and most winters. I like skiing. In Switzerland you can have the tastiest crisps in the world, especially the paprika-flavoured ones.

Eliana All my friends support England, so if they ever play against Switzerland there would definitely be some friendly tension. But if Switzerland win, I would still be able to celebrate with my friends.

Louis I would play my trumpet.


Ozan Özkan, 14, Haydar Özkan, 16

Ozan and Haydar Özkan in their garden wearing red-and-white Tunisia shirts and holding a football

Haydar and “Ozzie” were born in the UK – their mother is Tunisian and their father was Turkish (their cousin is Love Island winner Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu). They speak both Arabic and Turkish “a little”.

Haydar We lived in Tunisia for about 18 months five or six years back.

Ozzie We used to play football there, but we don’t really any more. I was in a club for a while and played with friends – at school I’d be playing every day at lunch.

Haydar It’s very competitive in Tunisia. The kids are always trying to trick each other during every game. It’s a real challenge.

Ozzie I don’t think we have any friends in the UK who are supporting Tunisia – they’re keeping it quiet if they do!


Katherine Demetris, 17

Katherine Demetris in a bedroom wearing a white USA shirt

Katherine was born in London in 2004, but both her parents are American. They met in London after moving to the UK in 1991, and Katherine is the youngest of their four children. Her brothers are back in the US, working or at university, and Katherine intends to attend university in the US too.

My family has lived in London my whole life, and my siblings and I attended the American School in London (ASL) from the age of four – I’m in my last year. I started playing football (or soccer, as we call it at ASL) when I was six.

It was hard to find an all-girls team when I was young, so I played with my brother until I joined Kinja FC, where I played from age eight to 15. Then I played on the varsity team of ASL from freshman year until now. I am privileged to be one of the captains.

Before coming to ASL, and moving to Maida Vale, we lived in Chelsea, very near Stamford Bridge, so we became avid Chelsea fans. I’ve also always followed the US women’s team and was lucky to see them play in Paris in 2019 with my mom. I went with some of my teammates to see them play against England at Wembley in October – it was an incredible atmosphere and a great match. I’m inspired by the level of women’s football now and it’s exciting to watch England playing so well.

Being a dual citizen, I truly support both the US and England. During the 2018 World Cup, I was in Florida for the summer with my brothers and watched all the matches, supporting England all the way. We were heartbroken for them in the semi-final loss to Croatia.

I am so pleased the US men’s team qualified. I am bummed that the US and England are in the same pool, but I’m confident they’ll both be in the last 16!


Nacho Godoy, 11, and Camilo Godoy, 13

Nacho and Camilo Godoy wearing Uruguayshirts and holding a flag behind them in their garden

Budding footballers Camilo and Nacho live in West Wickham. They were born in the UK to a Uruguayan dad and an English mum. Their brother Santino is five, and keener on Lego than football.

Camilo I remember going to a Brazilian restaurant in London to watch Uruguay v Italy for the 2014 World Cup with my dad’s friends. When Godin scored to make it 1-0, the scenes were amazing. I also saw the Uruguay v Brazil friendly at the Emirates in 2018. Amazingly, they let my dad in with his candombe drum and he was on TV holding it up in the crowd.

Nacho I went to watch Uruguay in Cardiff for the Olympics in 2012, but I was just a baby so I don’t remember anything. My parents invited the whole Olympic delegation to our house for an asado (barbecue) a few weeks later. The footballers had already gone home but most of the athletes took a train from the Olympic village to our house.

Wherever we are in the world, if Uruguay are playing, my dad finds somewhere to watch it. There’s a photo of me and Cami in San Sebastián in Spain in our Uruguay shirts watching a Copa América match.

The Uruguayans we know in England are all friends my dad has made since living here. They are incredibly fun. The thing I like about Uruguayan culture is that kids are allowed to go to parties, and there is always barbecued meat and somebody ready to kick a football around.

Camilo For the 2014 World Cup, we often had parties at our house for all the Uruguayans in London. As it was summer, we would always have an asado. My grandad is English, and he came to watch Uruguay beat England at our house. We watched the 2018 World Cup at home because my dad was lucky enough to travel to Russia. The atmosphere wasn’t the same without all the Uruguayans who usually descend on our house.

When we watch Uruguay at home, we put on our shirts and decorate the house with flags. My dad loves to play the candombe drums and sing. There are videos of us as kids singing traditional football songs like Soy Celeste and banging on drums. This year we will be in Uruguay for the semi-finals onwards. Hopefully we will be watching them play the final with friends and family in Montevideo!

If Uruguay play England, I’ll always support Uruguay, but if they’re knocked out my support will shift to England.


Catrin Webb, 15, and Rhys Webb, 18

Catrin and Rhys Webb wearing red Wales shirts

Rhys and Catrin’s parents moved to south London from Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons in 1995. Prior to that, their dad played in the Welsh Premier League for Ebbw Vale – he is now an acting head teacher, having started out in London teaching PE. The siblings regularly visit Wales, where most of their family still live.

Catrin It’s great that Wales qualified, but it’s a pity we didn’t get into the Women’s World Cup. Female football doesn’t get quite the same recognition, and it would have been good to promote the Welsh women’s team.

Rhys I’d rather have qualified by beating Scotland than Ukraine. They’ve robbed us of a few playoffs, especially since the 1977 Joe Jordan handball! I’ve watched footage of the Wales v Brazil quarter-final game that got Wales knocked out of the 1958 World Cup – the goal was scored by a very young Pelé.

Catrin There are some great players in the team. Like most Welsh people, I love Gareth Bale. But we couldn’t have got there without Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Chris Gunter.

Rhys Some people say Gareth’s lost his legs though, so to be successful in this World Cup we’re going to need younger players like Neco Williams and Ethan Ampadu to showcase their talent and bring a breath of fresh air.

Catrin We’ve got the games in the diary already. First game against USA, then Iran the following week, then England.

Rhys That’s the big game, the England one. We should have people round, though it depends how we do in the two before it.

Catrin It’s a risk having English people round. You know: if you win, it’s great; if you lose …

Rhys Yeah, that’s going to be miserable.

Catrin It’s a shame that, after 64 years, the chance of seeing Wales play live in a World Cup means having to travel to Qatar. I don’t think we should support a country that’s so homophobic and where women don’t really have rights.

Rhys I’d still like to go. I mean, it’s Wales in the World Cup! But it’s a shame to think fans will be travelling over and not experiencing the same atmosphere our dad did when he went to Bordeaux in 2016 and saw Wales win for the first time in the Euros, against Slovakia – 30,000 Welsh fans going nuts!

Research: Kitty Drake

Additional research: Sundus Abdi, Francesca Hughes.

Special thanks for the shirts to: Gia Sangani, Rebekah Smith and Adam Paris at Nike; Jonathan Yates and George Marrable at Gung Ho/Hummel/New Balance; Dom Martin at Canada Soccer; Thomas Gray and Abigail Morgan at Adidas; Dan Cox at 160over90; Billy Gentry and Becca Fergus at Puma/MSL; Carleen Rayner and Alex Burgess at Rich/Kappa.


Chris Broughton

The GuardianTramp

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