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World Cup 2018

Five shots from Day 26: familiar faces at France-Belgium semi-final

Belgium assistant coach Thierry Henry during training
Belgium assistant coach Thierry Henry during training Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Mbappé and Lloris both inspire, Henry 's Belgium gig raises an important question, attention may be divided at Wimbledon and players in the France-Belgium match will see familiar faces on the other side on day 26 of the 2018 World Cup.

  • The name’s Bondy, AS Bondy.

On the eve of the semi-final between France and Belgium, the reportages come teeming in from the northern fringes of Paris peering into the melting pot that is Bondy. Here at the local club AS Bondy, a boy Kylian, whose parents have Cameroonian and Algerian roots, grew up to be Mbappé, scorer of wonder goals in the French top flight and in the World Cup. Is he an inspiration? Definitely. And not just because he is a mixed-race kid from the "banlieue" - the outskirts of the French capital -  but because he is a very good player. Of the 23 men in the French squad, around two-thirds are of Arab or African ancestry. This is leading to comparisons with the "Black-Blanc-Beur" (Black-White-Arab) team of 1998 which claimed France’s first World Cup. Wait up. That team won the extravaganza, this side has got to get past Belgium and then either England or Croatia before it can join the immortals. And we don’t want too many analogies with those times. The putative euphoria of that 1998 victory dissipated into liberal self-loathing when the far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen made it through to the second round of the presidential elections in 2002. France skipper Hugo Lloris is from an altogether different milieu. He grew up in a household where his father worked in finance and his mother was a lawyer. Materially more comfortable for sure than the deprived suburbs but with more than 100 caps, is he no less an inspiration?

  • Will he sing La Marseillaise?

He knows the words. But will he sing the French national anthem? That was one of the dilemmas facing Belgium’s France born forwards coach Thierry Henry on day 26. Come on, let’s be professional. He doesn’t have to sing. Quite a few of the players don’t sing, preferring to be in their moment. The fact that Henry might have divided loyalties seems to distract attention from the bleeding obvious question: why is France’s World and European championship winning record goal scorer working for the Belgians? Has been for two years. French football federation president Noel Le Graet told AFP that he and the other executive suits had lost sight of Henry. "Life can be like that sometimes,” he added. “He was in England a long time and, personally, I have very little contact with him." Surely it’s part of the job staying in touch with a man who scored 51 times for his country in 123 appearances?

  • All whites

The men’s singles final at Wimbledon could be on at the same time as the World Cup final which could feature England. Note the two "coulds". Organisers of the third Grand Slam tournament of the year said on day 26 of the World Cup - and not their tournament - that the men’s final would start at 2.00pm local time. The World Cup final will begin in Moscow two hours later. "It is purely our decision to stay at 2.00pm. It will stay this year, it will stay next year," said All England Club chief executive Richard Lewis. However, Lewis said he would have no objection if any of the 15,000 fans inside Centre Court wanted to follow the football on their mobile devices - as long as they did not disturb the players. "Our attitude is, if people aren't affecting other people's enjoyment of the tennis because they've got it on silent or whatever, or they are listening with an earphone, or whatever, that's fine." Defending champion Roger Federer joked that the World Cup final should move to accommodate the Wimbledon title match. Oh, our drole Swiss cousin.

  • Minds elsewhere

Probably just as well for a big football fan like Rafael Nadal that he has the tennis to think about. On day 26 (of the football tournament) the Spaniard did something he hasn’t done for seven years at Wimbledon – reach the last eight. His country’s football team didn’t make it that far in Russia.

  • Team check mates

France’s midfield enforcer N’Golo Kanté knows Belgium’s midfield maestro Eden Hazard very well as they both play for Chelsea in the English Premier League. Belgium’s Marouane Fellaini is aware of the brilliance of his Manchester United teammate Paul Pogba. They will all have to take chunks out of each other and in the prelude to the semi-final have been talking up the wonderfulness of each other. But really what else can they do? They have to work and play together for the rest of the year. Croatia against England on day 28 should prove more intriguing. Of the Croatia squad, only defender Dejan Lovren plys his trade in England and he will be up against his Liverpool comrade Jordan Henderson. That’ll be refreshingly unfamiliar.

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