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French Hope World Cup Trophy Brings Country Together


The string of wins by France's national soccer team at the World Cup in Germany has galvanized the nation after a series of setbacks. Many French dream about repeating the 1998 victory by the country's ethnical diverse team that appeared, at least temporarily, to heal the country's ethnic divisions.

Another game, another win. This time Wednesday against Portugal in the semifinals at Munich. After a series of disappointing performances Les Bleus (The Blues) - the nickname for France's soccer team - is finally hitting its stride.

Half a million French spilled into the streets of Paris after the Munich victory. They set off firecrackers in small towns, and honked their car horns in joy. The same joy that exploded eight years ago when France last won the world cup.

That win sparked a sense of multiethnic solidarity. People talked about black-blanc-beur - or black, white, ethnic Arab - that reflected the colors of France's soccer team. The current 23 national players are just as diverse, 17 of them are minorities. Several are Muslim.

Some French like Dalil Boubakeur, head of France's Representative Muslim Council, hope the team will do more than just win another World Cup.

Boubakeur says the World Cup has a psychological effect here, and possibly even an economic effect in restoring confidence of French businesses particularly in young Muslims. It may lower barriers in integrating them economically and give them their rightful place in French society.

On the streets of Paris some, like Senegalese Moussa Sy, agree.

Sy says he's lived in France for 40 years, so of course he's behind the French team. The French team is practically all foreign, ethnic Arab and black, hardly any whites.

In fact many minorities here - mostly blacks, ethnic Arabs and Chinese - have not found their place in French society. That was obvious last October and November, when riots by mostly ethnic Arab and African youths spread across the country.

But that has not been the only setback. France lost its bid to host the Olympics in 2012. Demonstrations against an unpopular new jobs law paralyzed the country. Economic growth remains shaky. And the country's center-right government is very unpopular and tainted by a political scandal.

Jean-Claude Kaufmann, a sociologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, says many French remain cautious about their latest victories.

Kaufmann says the French are still braced for a fall. France's latest victories will not bring back the joy of 1998, when many here believed they were a victorious nation. He thinks the nation is sick. And the World Cup won't change things.

Some French agree. Like Farid Taha, 24, an ethnic Algerian.

Taha believes the current euphoria over France's World Cup successes won't last beyond a few weeks. After that it will be over. It's just a game, he says, it won't change anything.

History suggests Taha might be right. In 1998, many hoped the World Cup victory might unite the nation. At the time the country's ethnically diverse team brought the country together in celebration. Star player Zinedine Zidane, an ethnic Algerian who scored the winning goal then, and during Wednesday's semifinals against Portugal, remains beloved. But today Zidane ,34, is heading for retirement.

Just four years after the 1998 World Cup victory the far-right, anti-immigration National Front party placed second in presidential elections in France. Today, a March poll showed 30 percent of French consider themselves racist - a five percent increase from last year.

Skeptics like Mouloud Aounit, head of the antiracism group MRAP, doubt the current French soccer team can turn things around.

We had this experience in the last World Cup 1998, Aounit said, when French felt the black-blanc-beur could bring a new vitality to France. It didn't.

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