As every World Cup goes, the Russia World Cup is probably the best World Cup till now. Not only because of the introduction of new technology such as the VAR or the goals being scored but the unexpected results but also because of the stories of the underdog teams and a different cultural representation. For the ones not following the World Cup, France will be facing Croatia in the Grand Finale in Moscow. And the former country will not only have support from French citizens but from football fans across a different continent. Although Africa’s journey in the World Cup ended with Senegal’s defeat to Colombia, a whole continent is being represented through the French tricolor in the final.
The finalists boast as many as 15 players with African roots in their 23-man squad. Samuel Umtiti was born in Cameroon, while Steven Mandanda in Democratic Republic of Congo. Manchester United’s record transfer Paul Pogba hails from Guinea while his Premier League rival N’Golo Kante has roots from Mali. And the list goes on and on. What is interesting to observe is how the players are having a certain influence on their team and a sort of cultural identity of an entire nation. The Instagram accounts of some social media savvy and active players also have a thing in common. The music is African. Right from the dressing room celebration of the players to the stadiums, ‘Magic in the Air’ a song by Ivorian group Magic System is played. The song was even chosen as the official fan anthem for France football team by the country’s federation. France has indeed become a pseudo-African team this World Cup. France has been heart-warming and has embraced this immigration. And it has worked wonders for them, like a blessing in disguise.
But not all European nations have similar thoughts. Defending World Cup champions Germany had a torrid run this campaign. After their premature Group Stage exit, a certain player of Turkish descent was convincingly made the scapegoat. Özil scored in Germany’s pre-tournament friendly against Austria but was booed by fans in the 2-1 defeat, along with Ilkay Gundogan. The pair, both having their roots from Turkey, were caught up in an off-field controversy when they were pictured with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And obviously, the fans didn’t take this well. In the wake of their 2-0 loss to South Korea, Germany team boss Oliver Bierhoff said that Mesut Özil should have been dropped over the pre-tournament scandal involving Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. At the World Cup, the Arsenal midfielder refused to comment about a controversial meeting on the eve of the finals with Erdoğan which sparked questions about his loyalty to Germany.
The case isn’t so distant from the one with Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku. Although the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists don’t hesitate to celebrate a match-winning performance from Lukaku, a bigotry is observed when Belgium suffers a loss. Romelu Lukaku is of Congolese descent and often a target of certain racist fans calling him “the Belgian striker of Congolese descent” when things don’t go as planned. National representation and identity took a different toll on two players from Switzerland. Their 2-0 victory over Serbia saw Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri on the scoresheets as well as on the reprimanding sheet. Xhaka and Shaqiri are both of Albanian descent and celebrated with a flying eagle gesture after both the goals. Both, along with their captain Stephan Lichtsteiner were reprimanded for this, showing how complex the situation of national identity and culture is.
Compared to the 1966 World Cup-winning English football team which had no player of African origin in the team, the 2018 team has nine players of African or Caribbean descent. That is indeed a huge progress towards equality, but do they consider immigration as a blessing for their sports, if not for the country? English defender Danny Rose even asked out his parents to stay back at home and not come to Russia to avoid racial slurs thrown at them.
Croatia have had a historic journey, out-performing their squad of 1998 World Cup and reaching the final of a World Cup 20 years later. According to statistics by The Guardian, Croatia has the most players born out of the country they represent. With Swiss-born Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic, 15% of the players in Croatia squad are former immigrants of different descents. Such a scenario is difficult to observe in Asian teams like South Korea or Japan who see all or most players born in the country itself. Even South American teams like Argentina or Brazil don’t see such a situation.
Nevertheless, immigrants have proven to be winners in this World Cup, both Croatia and France boasting 10% and 15.4% players being born outside the country, representing in the final. This proves to be sort of an acceptance of a cultural blending, with immigrants being a blessing in disguise for either nation. And no matter what the result of the final might be, one thing for sure is, immigrants are the winners this time.
Picture Credits: indiatoday.com