What Happened To Sporting Rivalry?

If you really love the Beautiful Game, put politics aside

Cool head analyses are the best. This is something that I had to repeat myself several times yesterday evening, when my Twitter feed was full of comments about the World Cup final.

Indeed, on the blue bird social media it was impossible not to notice the trending hashtag #FrancevsCroatia. And, absurdly, the degree of politicization of the related comments was almost all-encompassing. Let me be clear about my stance on this mix between sports, politics, ideology and social media rattling.

Idiots. Those who were rooting against France because of the foreign origin of their players are just idiots. The web was full of disgraceful latent racist comments such as “congratulations to Africa!”, ignoring the fact that it’s exactly the French football system, much more than a not-so-impressive team (Catenaccio is not that bad when you do it, right?), that won this World Cup. Indeed, like it or not, almost all twenty-three players were born in France, feel French and, football-wise, grew up in Clairefontaine, whose model of excellence spawned the second golden generation of great talents in twenty years.

Ridiculous. Those who in response were cheering for a multicultural France against an allegedly nationalist Croatia are just ridiculous. Putting aside any kind of historical or political consideration, this country of just four million people gave a great image of sportmanship and openness not only through its indomitable stars, but also with its President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who definitely stole the show to both Putin and Macron. The juxtaposition between such different teams and realities is just specious and has nothing to do with what we have seen yesterday afternoon.

What happened to sporting rivalry instead? I mean the good one.

Let me be a little butthurt, here. I don’t judge tastes, but any real football-mad Italian should have supported Croatia for two simple, yet relevant reasons.

First, France could soon join Italy and Germany in the pantheon of European football legends. While both us and the Germans have four stars on our glorious shirts, France has now two, both conquered in the last two decades, during which they played no fewer than three finals. And when much bigger footballing powers such as Spain and England (just look at the list of the European club competition winners, you will only find one from France, the Olympique Marseille) are still lagging behind, les Blues, with these players, can now seriously establish a domain for the next decade.

Second, let’s avoid false modesty. We would never go around with t-shirts and the offical team bus that say ‘Champions of Europe’, right before playing the final. Portugal have already punished them with interests in Paris two years ago, and injuring on purpose Cristiano Ronaldo on the fifteenth minute accomplished nothing.

Still convinced they would have deserved the 2006 World Cup, the French forget that Malouda’s penalty was not penalty (does it remind you of Griezmann’s free kick?) and that Zidane, kicking it ‘a la Panenka’, was about to miss it. They also forget that Luca Toni’s regular goal was not allowed. Ah, and Zidane’s headbutt was not Materazzi’s fault, you know? If my tears taste so good, it’s just because our cuisine is the best in the world.

In conclusion, football is magic also for these kind of friendly banters. So, if you really love the Beautiful Game, put politics aside.