The French men’s soccer team, popularly referred to as Les Bleus by its supporters, has a long history of deep runs in the World Cup tournament. This will be the team’s sixth appearance in the semifinals.
Some other stats:
First appearance: 1930
Total appearances: 15 out of 21 past World Cup tournaments
Title wins: 1
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What’s the History
A Bitter Defeat for the Ages
At the 1982 World Cup semifinals, France faced West Germany in a match that is recognized as among the most dramatic in World Cup history. Knotted at 3-3 after extra time, West Germany would emerge victorious in the sudden death shootout — the first time that penalties would decide a match in the World Cup tournament. The game is remembered for the brutal collision between the German goalie Harald Schumacher and France’s Patrick Battiston, who was knocked unconscious and suffered three cracked ribs, two missing teeth and a damaged vertebra.
A World Cup Victory
In 1998 the French national team won the World Cup, beating Brazil 3-0. The title win was hailed as a victory for a multicultural vision of France because of the diverse makeup of the team. As The Times reported at the time:
At the game’s conclusion, the steely defender Lilian Thuram grabbed a tricolor, jogged to a corner of the stadium and waved it joyously, signaling that this was not merely a victory for French soccer, but also for French ethnic diversity.
Thuram was born in Guadeloupe. (Zinedine) Zidane is the son of an Algerian night watchman. (Marcel) Desailly was born in Ghana. Others are of Armenian and Polish descent. Tonight’s victory was a rebuke, in an athletic sense anyway, of the anti-immigration stand by Jean-Marie Le Pen and the right-wing National Front party that has gained popularity in recent years.
The Players’ Strike
At the 2010 World Cup the French national team boycotted training in protest after striker Nicolas Anelka was expelled for shouting obscenities at his coach. Anelka was given an 18-game suspension by the French Football Federation, effectively ending his international career. Three other players who had helped lead the boycott were given suspensions as well, and the team limped through a last-place finish in the group stage.
How Did They Get Here
In the knockout stage, France came from behind during a much anticipated matchup with Argentina to score three goals in 11 minutes, ultimately winning, 4-3.
In the quarterfinals France rolled over Uruguay with a 2-0 victory.
What’s at Stake
On top of hoping to recreate the achievements of the French team of 1998, this year’s players share another trait with their predecessors that extend beyond the pitch.
The 2018 team is led by star Kylian Mbappé and includes other players from the banlieues, a vast sprawl of multicultural suburbs and satellite towns around Paris that is home to the greatest pool of soccer talent in Europe.
As in 1998, a win for the French national team could be regarded as win for a multicultural vision of France.