Africa adopts French team

Four­teen of the French play­ers have their roots on the African con­ti­nent

Sunday Times - - Sport -

● Africa’s di­rect in­ter­est in the World Cup ended dis­ap­point­ingly early in the first round in Russia, but with France hav­ing 14 play­ers with roots on the con­ti­nent there is lit­tle doubt which side Africans will be back­ing in to­day’s World Cup fi­nal.

France’s progress to the de­cid­ing game in Moscow against Croa­tia has kept alive in­ter­est for Africa with the di­verse and mul­ti­cul­tural French squad not only rep­re­sent­ing the het­ero­gene­ity of the coun­try but also an African di­as­pora that is a hot­bed of foot­balling tal­ent.

“The di­ver­sity of the squad is in the im­age of this beau­ti­ful coun­try that is France,” said mid­fielder Blaise Ma­tu­idi, born in Toulouse to an An­golan fa­ther and a Con­golese mother.

“For us, it’s superb. We are proud to rep­re­sent this beau­ti­ful jersey and I think the peo­ple are also proud to have a na­tional team like that.”

Not only do im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties sup­ply a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of play­ers to na­tional teams across Europe but African na­tions also ben­e­fit, hav­ing been able to boost their tal­ent pools by court­ing play­ers from the di­as­pora.

Of­ten there is a bat­tle of the heart­strings as African foot­ball au­thor­i­ties go head to head with Euro­pean fed­er­a­tions for the loyBy alty of a player born in Europe. But with African roots, they will re­gard many of those play­ing in the fi­nal as tal­ent that has slipped through their hands.

Paul Pogba’s el­der twin brothers play for Guinea but their younger sib­ling, born in the sub­urbs of Paris, was just 20 when France handed him a first cap, thereby ty­ing him to their cause.

Fifa per­mits player to switch in­ter­na­tional al­le­giance only be­fore they have played a com­pet­i­tive se­nior in­ter­na­tional.

Cameroon sent famed striker Roger Milla to try to per­suade Sa­muel Umtiti to play for them. He was born in Yaounde but moved to France at an early age and came up through the French junior na­tional teams.

Back-up goal­keeper Steve Man­danda is in France’s squad and has a brother who kept goal for the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo.

The rest of the squad with African con­nec­tions are French-born to par­ents from Al­ge­ria, An­gola, Congo, Mali, Mau­ri­ta­nia, Morocco, Nige­ria, Sene­gal and Togo.

Links be­tween French and African foot­ball go back 80 years. Sene­galese Raoul Di­agne played in the 1938 World Cup and later be­came a deputy in the French assem­bly, and the first coach of in­de­pen­dent Sene­gal.

Just Fon­taine, whose tally of 13 goals in the 1958 fi­nals re­mains a World Cup record, came from Morocco, and Zine­dine Zi­dane, ar­guably the great­est French foot­baller, was born in Mar­seille to Al­ge­rian par­ents. He was the hero of France’s World Cup-win­ning team 20 years ago whose suc­cess was hailed as a pow­er­ful and in­spir­ing re­jec­tion of racism in French so­ci­ety.

Croa­tia captain Luka Mo­dric says de­ter­mi­na­tion and self-be­lief were al­ways more im­por­tant than phys­i­cal stature in foot­ball and that will be as true in the fi­nal as in any other match.

At 1.72m and 66kg, the Croa­tia play­maker can cut a diminu­tive fig­ure on the pitch but he has few ri­vals when it comes to skill, game man­age­ment and stamina.

The win­ner of four Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles with Real Madrid will play the big­gest match of his life against France.

“I’ve al­ways ig­nored such talk,” he told re­porters on the eve of his na­tion’s first World Cup fi­nal. “I have never doubted my­self even if oth­ers did, I al­ways be­lieved I could get to where I am to­day and thank God this came true. You don’t have to be a gi­ant to play foot­ball. I am happy with where I am and I never cared what any­one else said.”

France will be clear favourites to win a sec­ond World Cup.

I think the peo­ple are also proud to have a na­tional team like that

Blaise Ma­tu­idi

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