Why I’m Supporting France in the World Cup Final
The FIFA World Cup, one of the biggest international sporting events, is ending this weekend with the finale between France and Croatia. I approach the World Cup like I approach any other tournament or award: I root for everybody black. In this case, that means going for France. France hasn’t won a World Cup since 1998, and I’m ready and waiting for them to once again claim the title.
The first time I remember watching the French team play was during qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup. I grew up watching soccer—professional matches, my older brother’s games, my father’s games, post-game film, you name it. My father, originally from Nigeria, played, coached, and refereed local soccer matches, so soccer was a large part of my summers. I was never interested in playing (I preferred basketball, which required far less running), but I loved to watch and yell at the TV with my dad. His favorite team, Arsenal in the British Premier League, became my favorite team.
Arsenal’s coach at the time was a Frenchman named Arsène Wenger, who had signed several French players, including Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry. Henry became a star player for Arsenal and one of my favorite soccer players. Now, I’m not going to lie. It wasn’t only his great talent that caught my eye. Twelve-year-old me thought that man was fine, and thirty-two-year-old me still agrees. (He’s even got a beard now!) So, after the US bowed out during the group stages and Nigeria got knocked out of the round of 16, I needed another team to support. France made it to the final to face another team I loved—Brazil. France proved victorious, though, and since then they have remained one of the teams I root for, even after Henry retired from international play in 2010. Unlike a lot of the other European teams, France has consistently had star players who were black, and the current team is no different.
If you haven’t watched any of France’s games so far, here are the starting players to watch for:
N’Golo Kanté (#13, midfielder): Born to Malian parents, the 27-year-old defensive midfielder plays alongside Pogba in France’s formation and will be instrumental in helping his team gain and keep possession. He does it all—tackling, passing, intercepting—and can go the whole game without looking sluggish. His specialties are reading the game, winning the ball, and stamina.
Blaise Matuidi (#14, midfielder): The 31-year-old son of an Angolan father and Congolese mother is an attacking midfielder. However, you’ll see him in the front one minute and the next providing defensive support, putting pressure on opponents and making tackles. Expect him to win the ball back and efficiently move it through the midfield. Today’s game will be a physical one, but call him Bone Crusher, because Matuidi is never scared. His specialties are toughness, versatility, and passing.
Kylian Mbappé (#10, forward): Mbappé, the son of a Cameroonian father and Algerian mother, is building an impressive resume as the youngest player to score in a World Cup in 60 years, the youngest French player to score a World Cup goal, and one of France’s leading scorers in the tournament. The 19-year-old wears a striker’s number, so look for him in the front, trying (and likely succeeding) to score a goal. Check his foot work, as he is capable of dribbling the ball through players and making tricky passes. His specialties are speed, ball control, and shooting.
Paul Pogba (#6, midfielder): The 25-year-old son of Guinean parents is a play-maker with fancy footwork. When he’s not taking shots himself, he’s creating chances for other players or winning the ball back on defense. He switches easily between attacking and defending, so watch for him to successfully take on an opponent man-to-man or intercept the other team’s passes. His specialties are creativity, passing, and heading the ball.
Samuel Umtiti (#5, defender): The Cameroonian-born, 24-year-old central defender is not expected to score, but he’s crucial to the game. You’ll see him making well-placed, well-timed passes and body-checking other players to win the ball back and begin a counter attack. Umtiti’s position is in the back four, close to the goalkeeper, so any Croatian player looking to score will probably have to go through him. His specialties are versatility, physical strength, and reading the game.
For many of these players this is either their first World Cup or the farthest they’ve gone in the tournament. I want this win for these black players who will be instrumental in making it happen. So today I will be chanting “Allez Les Bleus”!