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Friday, January 27, 2023
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Analysis: France x England pits a country with global ambition against a nation struggling to remain in the first world

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Multi-sport countries par excellence, France and England are chronic opponents in rugby, but have never played a final round game in the World Cup. The players, however, know each other by heart.

Since the 2000s, when the Alsatian Arsène Wenger established a colony in Arsenal, reaching the English championship has become the main career goal of French athletes.

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But something changed after brexit. English football has become poorer and less competitive after the ban on recruiting EU citizens under the age of 18. Political relations broke down during discussions about the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

Paris is outraged by new fishing regulations in the English Channel, and London has been threatening to break the agreement on the Northern Ireland border.

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In Eastern Europe and Asia, the two former allies are once again competing for geopolitical space. The constant provocations between heads of state over the past year mark the lowest point in relations since World War II.

The animosity has a lot to do with the contrasting trajectory of the two countries since the split was agreed in 2016.

The UK emerged from the pandemic tunnel far behind its former European partners. The economy is staggering and British industry has lost some of its competitiveness.

To the surprise of zero experts, the promise of a large range of trade agreements with international actors never materialized. Weakened by the Ukrainian War, the British watched the debacle of their Prime Minister Liz Truss, treated by the market as the ruler of a banana republic.

France, on the other hand, was one of the great beneficiaries of the British declassification.

This year, it became the largest financial center in Europe, after an aggressive campaign to attract British capital.

When the yellow vests take a breather, Macron’s Startup Nation looks frankly more vigorous than Germany in the midst of industrial shock and Italy hostage to the extreme right.

Kylian Mbappé embodies this state of mind. A perfectionist playmaker, created in the best laboratories of French football, with millimetrically calculated gestures and statements. He is the face of the competitive and global France that Macron wants.

Nothing to do with Nicolas Anelka’s generation, which, undermined by ethnic and racial tensions, imploded itself during the South African Cup.

Performance on the four lines is a ray of light on the island. Gone are the days of David Beckham’s Hollywood generation, when England grabbed the headlines but lost the games. The soul of today’s team are Jordan Henderson, Harry Maguire and Harry Kane, hard workers but not very charismatic who embody England’s struggle to stay in the first world.

The game will be a first opportunity to contemplate the crossed destinies of France and England.

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