France is just one win away from winning its second World Cup title in the country’s history when it faces Croatia at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday in the finals.
But Les Bleus’ impressive run in this year’s tournament is inspiring people well beyond French borders. It doesn’t take more than a quick look at the names and black faces on the French roster to understand why the squad is seen by many as Africa’s last remaining team in the World Cup.
There are 15 men on the French National Team with African roots. Many of the players are either the sons of African immigrants or were born on the continent. When considering the ugly history of France’s treatment of Africans, the squad’s honorary designation as an African team comes with complications. Those concerns run deeper when also noting the current times where immigrants across the Western world are facing high levels of opposition, scrutiny and racism.
But sports has proven to be a great unifier during trying times in the past and this French team is easy to root for. Erasing some lasting scars from the 2006 World Cup team that literally quit on its coach, this year’s French club is an exciting, fast-paced group who’ve become internet favorites for the flair and joy they bring to the game on and off the pitch.
Kimpembe parties after every match like he doesn’t just warm the bench. But France to do it for Africa pic.twitter.com/Aq8gMjUp6j
— 🏴🇫🇷 (@khadssx) July 6, 2018
France is literally Africa North and I’m here for @AntoGriezmann jamming and being part of it all…
— Jose Moreno (@morenojosea) July 10, 2018
Here are some the stars to follow ahead of France’s World Cup Final match with Croatia.
African Roots: Parents are from Guinea
World Cup Summary: The star midfielder has put together a stellar tournament thus far. France’s “do it all” forward has yet to score in the World Cup, but has made an impact with his passing and defending. Pogba’s also shown tremendous growth as a team leader — silencing many critics who’ve questioned his discipline and passion during his last two club seasons with English power Manchester United.
— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) July 10, 2018
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 11, 2018
African Roots: Father is from Cameroon; mother is from Algeria
World Cup Accomplishments: The French phenom made history in the team’s quarterfinal match against Argentina. In a show-stopping performance, Mbappe became the first teenager since soccer icon Pele in 1958 to score two goals in the World Cup. Mbappe’s is tied with Antoine Griezmann for the most goals on the team with three.
Mbappé puts France ahead!
He collects the loose ball in the box and fires it home to make it 3-2 for Les Bleus. pic.twitter.com/gCdhCD5C0e
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 30, 2018
African Roots: Born in Cameroon
World Cup Accomplishments: If France goes on to win the World Cup, Umtiti will forever be recognized as a national hero for his game-winning goal against Belgium in the semifinal. Umtiti skied over Belgian defenders to net the only score in France’s 1-0 win. He’s also been tasked with anchoring a backline that managed to keep the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Romelu Lukaku from scoring during the knockout stage.
The center back heads home the corner to give France the 1-0 lead. 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/Y5MtXUpvDg
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 10, 2018