Africa adopts French team
Fourteen of the French players have their roots on the African continent
● 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