Harare - The first time France won the FIFA World Cup in 1998, the star of that show in the final was a Frenchman with Algerian roots, Zinedine Zidane, who scored twice with headers in that grand showdown at the Stade de France in Saint Denis.
Emmanuel Petit scored the other goal in that 3-0 destruction of Brazil while Zidane, a talismanic midfielder, was named man-of-the match for his two goals.
Twenty years later, in Moscow on Sunday, the French once again ruled the world when they captured the globe’s biggest football silverware after an impressive 4-2 destruction of a brave Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in a classic final that produced half-a-dozen goals.
And, just like in Paris two decades ago, there were goals for the triumphant French side in the grand finale in Moscow for players with a distinct African background.
Kylian Mbappe, a teenage forward whom many believe has the potential to become the game’s biggest star in the near future, became the second youngest scorer in the FIFA World Cup final – exactly 60 years after the legendary Brazilian forward, Pele, announced his arrival on the grand stage with a goal against Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final at the age of 17.
Midfielder Paul Pogba was also on target in Moscow, with a sweet strike with his left foot after his initial effort had been blocked, while striker Antoine Griezmann scored the other French goal from a penalty on his way to a man-of-the-match show.
The remarkability of the French success was that it was powered, in the final, by goals from immigrants as, for the first time in the history of the World Cup final, all the goals from the triumphant side were scored by players who have roots from elsewhere.
Mbappe – who was named the Best Young Player at the World Cup – might have been born in France but his roots are in Cameroon, where his father Wilfried came from as an immigrant to settle in the European nation, and then started nurturing the career of his son at a very young age.
The striker’s mother is from Algeria.
Pogba, who showed his qualities at this World Cup, as one of the finest midfielders in world football despite a frustrating season at Manchester United where he even ended up being benched by his club coach Jose Mourinho, might also have been born in France but his roots are in Guinea.
That’s where his parents came from to settle in France.
Griezmann, one of the outstanding forwards at this World Cup, converted from the spot to restore France’s lead in the final after Ivan Perisic had equalised for the Croats with a superb goal, which took a slight deflection, in a crazy first half that produced three goals.
The diminutive French forward has a father who has German roots while his mother has Portuguese ancestry and, having been rejected by his country’s football establishment as being too small to become a successful professional football, he left France at the age of 14 to settle in Spain.
“Immigrants, sons of immigrants and grandsons of immigrants bonded together with scions of families that have been French for generations, all for the rouge, blanc et bleu,” the Associated Press reported.
“And for only the second time, France is the World Cup champion.
“About two-thirds of Les Bleus’ roster included players with immigrant backgrounds, a mini-United Nations of football talent.”
Griezmann said this was the united French side which, had about 16 immigrants, which the world, and the players, wanted to see.
“That is the France that we love,” Griezmann told reporters after the final on Sunday, “It’s beautiful to see it.”
“There may be players who come from different origins, but we do have the same state of mind.”
“We all play for the same jersey, the cockerel. For our country, we give everything we have. As soon as you wear the jersey, we do everything for each other.”
France’s success story, powered in a big way by sons of immigrant families from Africa and right the Caribbean, could not have come at a more appropriate time.
For, right now, immigration has become a toxic subject, dividing nations and giving rise to some far right politicians, in Europe and in the United States, whose popularity has been inspired by their hardline stance against the flood of immigrants coming into their borders.
United States President Donald Trump has threatened to build a wall on the Mexican border to stop immigrants coming into America using that path even though, ironically, football has found a way to unite the two countries who, with Canada, won the bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
“Congratulations to France, who played extraordinary soccer, on winning the 2018 World Cup,” Trump tweeted just after France’s victory.
“Additionally, congratulations to President Putin and Russia for putting on a truly great World Cup Tournament -- one of the best ever!”
Thousands of immigrants, the majority of them coming from Africa, have died in recent years trying to cross the Mediterranean on makeshift boats while the trend has given rise to a dark side which has seen some Africans being traded as slaves in parts of Libya and forced onto these doomed voyages.
An estimated 85,000 to 100,000 immigrants, mainly from Africa, are believed to have arrived on European borders by sea just this year alone.
A few weeks ago, the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, issued a warning that the continent could be flooded by millions of immigrants if it did not take measures to stop the people who were moving in from various parts of the world, notably Africa and Asia.
That his warning followed the evacuation of about 3,000 migrants who had been living on a rough makeshift camp near Paris’ city centre, just weeks before a French side powered by its migrant football stars to the World Cup success story, was in itself ironic.
“Population growth, climate change, desertification, wars, famine in Somalia and Sudan. These are the factors that are forcing people to leave,” he told II Messagero newspaper.
“When people lose hope, they risk crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean because it is worse to stay at home, where they run enormous risks. If we don’t confront this soon, we will find ourselves with millions of people on our doorstep within five years.
“Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of people.”
“The only solution is massive investment in Africa to dissuade people from leaving in the first place.”