News / Europe

World Cup Match Recalls Franco-German Ties

Fans watch French and German soccer teams’ quarterfinal match in the border town of Kehyl, Germany, near Strasbourg, July 4, 2014.
Fans watch French and German soccer teams’ quarterfinal match in the border town of Kehyl, Germany, near Strasbourg, July 4, 2014.
Lisa Bryant

As Europe marks the century anniversary of World War I, Germany and France battled over a very different goal this week: a place in the World Cup semifinals.

This time, in Friday’s quarterfinal match in Brazil, Germany emerged the victor.

France's fate was not yet sealed early Friday evening, and at bars across Paris, supporters of "Les Bleus," as the French team is known, were still hoping for an upset over Germany.

Thierry Litterra, a marketing consultant who dropped by the café in the city’s northeast, said he hoped his country would win “because we want to see other matches and have fun and enjoy, because it's a nice moment. … It's not over yet. So everything is still possible."

On the field and off, the French-German rivalry is an old story. It played out during the 1982 World Cup semifinals in Spain. West Germany won, but not before the German goalkeeper left a French player with a cracked vertebra and broken teeth.

Of course, there have been more brutal battles over the centuries – including World War I, whose centenary is being marked this year, and World War II. France, the rest of Europe and most of the world commemorated the 70th anniversary last month of the allies' D-Day attack on German armies occupying France.

Today, Germany and France are Europe's economic engines. They helped to found today's European Union and their cooperation is key to powering it.

A separate state of play

For soccer fan Littera, it's a different world.

"Everything has changed, it's not the same history. … We don't forget what happened in terms of history,” he said. But when it comes to the World Cup, “nothing compares.”

To be sure, old rivalries remain. Tourists Gaby and Abraham were the only Germans at this Paris bar.

"It's not so good here when Germany wins. At home, it's very good,” she said, her voice trailing off as her husband laughed.  

As for French and German conflict during World War II, Gaby said it’s no longer relevant.

"I did not live when the war was on,” she said. “We cannot say if it was good or was it wrong. And now we say nothing. There's a soccer match and the best shall win." 

Germany proved to be the better force Friday night, beating France 1-0. The battle for the World Cup goes on, but the bigger wars are over.

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