Born in France to a Portuguese father and a Moroccan mother, Manuel Da Costa has had something of a nomadic career that has seen him represent ten clubs including Fiorentina, PSV, West Ham United, Olympiacos and Spartak Moscow.
Now with Basaksehir in Turkey, the 32-year-old defender heads to his first World Cup after switching allegiances from Portugal – who he represented at Under-20, Under-21 and Under-23 levels – to Morocco.
So to be drawn against the land of his father’s birth was a barely believable twist of fate.
“Participating in a World Cup is something huge for me, as I’m representing my country and my roots,” he said.
“I expect half of my family will support Portugal and the other half Morocco – which will be kind of funny really.
“But for me it's a big honour to wear the Moroccan shirt because, when you participate in this tournament, you are showcasing your country and culture to the world.”
It was after the last World Cup, when Morocco had missed out on their fourth consecutive finals, that Da Costa was approached about pledging himself to the Atlas Lions. He wasn’t the only one.
Morocco now have a number of European-born players in their squad - including Dutch-born star Hakim Ziyech – who have become key contributors on their path to Russia, and after former Aston Villa midfielder Mustapha Hadji persuaded Da Costa that a bright future lay ahead, there was little doubt in his mind that he was making the right decision.
“I was first approached about playing for Morocco by [assistant coach] Mustapha Hadji. After a long discussion with him and the then coach Badou Ezzaki, I was convinced of Morocco's plan and objectives, and since then have had the honour of representing the country.”
As for Portugal, Da Costa’s travels around Europe have ensured he has played with or against many of those who he’ll line up on the other side of the ball to in Moscow on Wednesday. It means he knows just how much of a test his team faces.
“I played with most of the players when I was young – it would take too long to name them all! However, I remember playing alongside Ricardo Quaresma, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe and learned a great deal from them.
“They’re one of the best [teams] in the world, but we won’t focus only on Ronaldo.” he said. “We know he’s excellent and surrounded by good players. What’s more important for us, however, is to be focused, precise and have complete solidarity.”
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