After Colombia eliminated Senegal in the last world cup, it was considered the end of African teams. However, in the eyes of football fans from across the continent, there was still one African team left in the tournament, and they won the competition.
There were at least 15 players with African roots in the France squad that won the world cup, and their lineages stem from all over Africa. France’s African connections had earned them the tag of Africa’s “sixth team” at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They had even a broader appeal than the five African sides—Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia—who featured at the tournament.
Samuel Umtiti was born in Cameroon. Umtiti’s performances in Russia have been followed particularly closely in the land of his birth, and there was a delight when he scored the goal against Belgium that sent France into the final.”His goal in the semi-final was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm and passion, especially here in Yaounde,” says Njie Enow Ebai, a journalist from national broadcaster Cameroon Radio Television. “One newspaper even had the headline: ‘CAMEROON QUALIFIES FRANCE FOR WORLD CUP FINAL.'”
Kylian Mbappe has an Algerian mother and a Cameroonian father. Mbappe’s Cameroonian ancestry has given people in Cameroon an additional reason to root for France. The teenager’s popularity has been further enhanced by the fact that he shares his surname and specific physical characteristics with Samuel Mbappe Leppe, whose performances in midfield for Oryx Douala in the 1960s turned him into the first star of Cameroonian football.
Presnel Kimpembe and Steven Nzonzi’s fathers are Congolese. Blaise Matuidi’s parents are from Angola and came to France via DR Congo. Steve Mandanda in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Inevitably, interest in the French national team in DR Congo centers around the players with ties to the country—Mandanda, Matuidi, Kimpembe, Nzonzi—but not all of those with a Congolese connection are viewed in the same light.
N’Golo Kante’s parents are from Mali. During this tournament, The people of Mali have considered that Africa is represented by six countries and not by five. The sixth team in France,” says Malian journalist Amadou Alhousseini Toure.
“People are supporting France more than any other team because those who are pro-Barca saw Argentina go out and those who are pro-Real Madrid saw Portugal go out. People support France because of the African players who play for them.”
Paul Pogba’s parents are from Guinea, while Corentin Tolisso’s dad is from Togo. Ousmane Dembele shares origin in between Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Adil Rami of Moroccan descent, Benjamin Mendy, and Djibril Sidibe Senegalese descent.
Nabil Fekir created a storm of controversy in Algeria when, after months of suspense, he elected to play for France in March 2015 rather than the country of his parents’ birth. While matters of eligibility are generally seen in shades of grey in most of France’s former colonies, in Algeria, issues involving the country’s old colonial masters have a habit of being viewed in stark black and white. Having brutally colonized Algeria for 132 years, France has a compassionate relationship with the North African nation, meaning it is one Francophone country where support for Les Bleus is thin.
African music has played in the background throughout France’s World Cup journey, even extending to the stadiums. The song played each time France scored a goal is “Magic in the Air” by the Ivorian group Magic System, which was chosen as the team’s official fan song before the French Football Federation tournament.
In the eyes of many African football fans, France is not just a team full of African heritage players. They are something akin to a Pan-African football team