France the team to beat

World Cup Russia 2018

FRANCE’S reputation as “surrender monkeys” has to be one of the most unfair stereotypes in existence for a nation that dominated the world stage for so much of written history, and they sure haven’t backed down this World Cup.

The stereotype really caught fire after a throw-away line in a 1995 episode of The Simpsons, where school budget cuts led to gruff Scottish groundskeeper Willy calling the French-language students “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”.

A single joke from a left-leaning cartoon would be hijacked and popularised by conservatives, with the Bush Jr government’s chickenhawks seeking to demonise the French for refusing to get involved in the US’s ill-fated Iraq excursion.

That little venture didn’t turn out so well, but the damage was done: The French were cowardly in the public eye.

This ignores about 2500 years of being one of the most militarily dominant peoples in the world, from the Gauls sacking Rome, Clovis quadrupling Frankish borders, to Napoleon’s Grand Armée stomping about the continent leaving despots shaking at his ideas of égalité and the British fearing he’d pop over and dismantle their tyrannies.

We like to ignore or play down these victories so we can chuckle at jokes about the French flag being purely white, but the truth is the French lost as many soldiers at Gallipoli as Australia did (they just don’t talk about it as much: Losing 10,000 French soldiers at Gallipoli over 10 months was a minor tragedy compared to the 27,000 French killed in one day at the Battle of the Frontiers).

And they’re not retreating on the Russian football fields this year either. Unlike Brazilian forward Neymar’s theatrical performances, the only dives the French team has bene noted for this time round has been goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’ tremendous diving saves.

• They’ve done it before: France has shown themselves worthy of holding up the World Cup.

Incredible dive

His first incredible dive secured France’s match against Uruguay. Already dubbed “the save of the tournament,” his desperate stoppage of Martín Cáceres’ kick saw the stadium filled with gasps as he lurched right and seemed to hang in the air to stop the ball.

Lloris repeated the anti-gravity magic in this week’s match against Belgium, with one punching dive staving off an attempt by Alex Witsel and another diving spectacular that earned him Fox Sport’s “Save of the Day”.

Another standout among the French is 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappé, who’s scored three goals in the cup so far. When he made his second goal, he became the first teenager to score twice in a World Cup match since Pele’s effort against Sweden in 1958.

Along with being outrageously skilled, The New Yorker says he helped France “troll” its way to victory against Belgium with his antics successfully running down the clock, chewing through the minutes in defence while playing a game of keep-away.

France has already taken out Australia in group play, taken down Peru 1-0, tied with Denmark, then defeated Argentina in a high-scoring 4-3 in the round of 16, before their 2-0 against Uruguay in the quarters and their 1-0 over Belgium in the semis.

The French go into Sunday’s match as the favourite.


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