PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - It’s a showdown between “Asterix” and “Tintin”. Les Bleus (The Blues) versus Les Diables Rouges (The Red Devils). France against Belgium. The World Cup equivalent of a local derby, with a heavy dose of national rivalry thrown in.
Soccer Football - World Cup - France Training - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg Russia - July 9, 2018 General view of the stadium during training REUTERS/Michael Dalder
In France, sports shops were rapidly selling out of the national soccer strip on Tuesday as fans got ready for the semi-final showdown in St. Petersburg. In Belgium, mad-keen Diables Rouges supporters were jumping on last-minute flights to Russia.
Bars, cafes and restaurants in Paris and Brussels were preparing for a bumper evening of revelry.
There’s always been a degree of friendly tension between the two, with France regarding Belgium, and its French-speaking Wallonia region, as something of a poor cousin, while the Belgians often dismiss France as patronizing and faux-superior.
But those frictions, which extend from food to comic strips (Do you prefer France’s “Asterix” or Belgium’s “Tintin”?) to language pronunciation, will be ramped up to breaking point when their respective teams take to the field at 1800 GMT.
Adding to the rivalry is the fact that Thierry Henry, a hero of French soccer who helped the nation to World Cup glory in 1998, is now an assistant manager with Belgium’s national team and will stand on their touchline on Tuesday. On social media, Henry has been vilified by many French fans as a “traitor”.
“His heart will be divided,” France captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris told French media on Monday. “He is above all French. But tomorrow, as a professional, he will be channeling all his passion into the Belgian team.”
Some of the Belgian team grew up playing in France. There are members of each squad who play for the same club but will be on opposite sides of the ball tonight. They all