The French hand in Belgium's success

France’s all-time leading goal-scorer, Thierry Henry, has played a pivotal role in Belgium's success since his appointment as assistant coach in 2016 and will hope to inspire Belgium to a win against France in Tuesday's FIFA World Cup semifinal.

Thierry Henry, France’s all-time leading goal-scorer, will need to keep his nationalistic allegiances aside on Tuesday when he sits on the Belgium dugout as manager Roberto Martinez’s closest ally.   -  AFP

The clash of the first semifinals of the 2018 World Cup pits two countries – Belgium and France – with a lot of cultural similarities and a shared language (with some of the Belgian players, like Eden Hazard, hailing from the French-speaking Wallonia region). There’s also a longstanding feud, dating back to World War I, over who invented the French fries or frites. (Never say “French fries” if you are in Belgium.)

The Belgians, who prefer to communicate in English on the field of play (to tidy over the confusion of Flemish and French), can also draw on the services of a Frenchman with a long, successful career in England.

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Thierry Henry, France’s all-time leading goal-scorer and an Arsenal legend, will need to keep his nationalistic allegiances aside as he sits on the dugout as Belgium manager Roberto Martinez’s closest ally. The 1998 World Cup winner joined Martinez’s setup as an assistant coach in August 2016 and has been regularly praised by the manager and players alike for the positive, winning mentality that he brings to the camp.

Belgium's assistant coach Thierry Henry celebrates with head coach Roberto Martinez during his side's win over Brazil in the quarterfinal.   -  Getty Images


“Thierry has been with the team for two and a half years. We didn’t have the international experience and he brings that, how to keep calm when you are playing against top teams in the biggest matches,” Martinez said. “His dedication and attention to detail on a daily basis has been great. He has been the missing piece in the Belgium technical setup.”

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Didier Deschamps – Henry’s captain at the 1998 World Cup – understands the predicament his former teammate faces and said: “I am pleased for Henry and we played when he was younger and I was just ending my career. I have followed him and it’s a difficult situation and it’s not going to be easy for him. You are part of the enemy team and he is facing his home nation. So you have to ask him the question, but it’s with great pleasure that I am going to see him tomorrow.”

The Belgium team won’t hold it against Henry if he lends his voice to ‘La Marseillaise’ – the French national anthem – at the start of the game. “He hasn’t told me if he will sing the national anthem. But maybe he will sing because it’s natural. It will be difficult but Henry wants us to win because he is with Belgium now,” Kevin de Bruyne, the Belgium playmaker, said.

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