The Atlantic

Who Wins When France Claims the World Cup?

Three Atlantic staffers discuss tricky questions of national—and international—allegiance in sports, after the victory for Les Bleus, which some called “the last African team.”
Source: Dylan Martinez / Reuters

The final World Cup match was nothing short of exhilarating. Sunday’s showdown in Moscow saw France’s Les Bleus overtake the underdog Croatian team to win its second title, 4–2. The strange, stunning upset featured a gnarly goalkeeper gaffe, an especially ill-timed own goal, and a pitch invasion from the Russian protest performance group Pussy Riot. Played under a blanket of light rain, the match was a spectacle from start to finish.

Even so, the young stars of Les Bleus stole the show. The 19-year-old phenom Kylian Mbappé became the first teenager to score a goal in a World Cup final since the famed Brazilian footballer Pelé (who jokingly threatened to “dust my boots off again” and reclaim his mantle). The 25-year-old Paul Pogba became the first Manchester United player to score a goal in any World Cup final, with a finish inside the box that cemented France’s lead at the critical 59-minute mark. Antoine Griezmann, 27, followed up his penalty-kick goal with his signature dance, borrowed from the video game Fortnite. France’s manager Didier Deschamps saw his own milestone as well: He became the third man ever, joining Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer, to win the title as both a player and a manager.

But the team’s dominance (and ) has raised important questions about France’s and , not to mention . Would its African and Muslim players be celebrated—or even accepted—as Frenchmen if not for their extraordinary football prowess? Was France really “the last African team” standingin the tournament, some half jokingly? Can sports and nationalism ever be fully disentangled?

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