MOSCOW – “The sixth African team has made it to the semifinals”! This is most widespread phrase made by many African football fans since July 6, especially on social media when France qualified to the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup 2018.
In what’s considered as an unprecedented pitiful incident since the 1982 World Cup, all the five African teams have been knocked out this year at the first group stage.
However, Africans and several people across the world has dubbed the successful French team as the “United Africa Squad” because of the numerical dominance of African talents in it. Out of the 23-player squad, 14 are French players of African roots. Moreover, eight of these players hail from Muslim African countries.
Similarly, the current Belgian team – considered by football analysts to be Belgium’s golden generation – contains four skillful Muslim players. Also, eight of the 23-player squad are of African descent.
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Taking Nations to New Limits
Kylian Mbappé, the young forward of Cameroonian and Algerian descent, electrified the world on June 30 against Argentina. The 19-year-old striker of France accomplished a feat that only one player has ever achieved: scoring two goals in a World Cup match as a teenager, and that player is the greatest footballer of all times, the ‘Brazilian Black Pearl’, Pele, back in 1958.
On July 2, when Belgium was stunned by Japan’s two-goal lead, the Muslim Belgian duo Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli, both also with African roots, came to the rescue for the European team as they spearheaded its comeback in one of the World Cup’s highly dramatic matches.
Between Brain Drain & Racism
The world cup achievements of these immigrant talents take the center stage of the world this summer at the same time the immigration crisis has taken center stage in European and North American politics.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government nearly collapsed over divisions among her coalition partners on immigration.
In Britain, unease over large numbers of migrants helped fuel the vote to leave the European Union.
And in France, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen put up a more formidable fight than her father during her 2017 loss to President Emmanuel Macron, capturing a third of the French electorate.
Le Pen famously lamented that “when I look at Les Bleus [the nickname of the French national team], I don’t recognize France or myself.”
The European xenophobia goes on when the Swiss voted in an anti-immigrant party to lead its parliament three years ago.
Furthermore, Italy’s populist far-right League threatened mass deportations of illegal immigrants during its 2018 political campaign. The League won the most votes, and formed a coalition government alongside the populist left Five Star Movement.
The ‘Red Devils’ aka Belgium, like ‘Les Bleus’, can’t solve the immigration crisis in these countries. But as the immigration debate heats up, the skilled Muslim and African athletes can point the way toward an ideal of successful, merit-based integration while the deep frustration over their brain drain roams across the Islamic World and Africa.