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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Explosion of joy as France progress
Euphoria at France's World Cup victory over Portugal saw joyous scenes on the streets of Paris. But it was all very different the same time a year ago, writes the BBC's Alasdair Sandford.

Woman waves tricolour in front of Eiffel Tower
The French team's victories have launched an explosion of joy

The result prompted a collective groan in front of the big screen outside the Hotel de Ville.

Some roared in frustration. As one, people turned their back on the TV pictures and marched away.

July 6th... 2005... was a black day for French sport, as London was handed the 2012 Olympics ahead of Paris. Trafalgar Square staged the scenes of ecstatic celebration, not the Champs Elysees.

But on Wednesday night - exactly a year on - half a million people thronged the famous avenue, a sea of blue France shirts and tricolour flags dancing and hollering with delight into the early hours.

Elsewhere, the same euphoria poured onto the streets of Marseille, Toulouse, Reims and every other town and city across France. The country will be doing a fast trade in replacement car horns.

Too much, too soon?

The French team's victories over Spain, Brazil and now Portugal have unleashed not just an explosion of joy, but a collective desire to share it and take part in the spectacle.

The march to the final has been as unexpected as it is dramatic - the national team had been consistently mediocre, well before the tournament's opening games

For too long, mass gatherings in France have tended to be either protests or riots.

Now, the big TV screens are attracting tens of thousands to some of the main stadiums in Paris such as the Parc des Princes and the Charlety athletics ground.

Of course France hasn't yet won the World Cup and no-one doubts that Italy will be formidable opponents. People could be forgiven for thinking that the French are celebrating too much, too soon.

But the march to the final has been as unexpected as it is dramatic.

The national team had been consistently mediocre, well before the tournament's opening games.

As the IOC was voting in Singapore a year ago, France was floundering in 4th place in its qualifying group, struggling against opposition such as Israel and the Faroe Islands.

'Fairytale stuff'

The almost surreal events of the past week have taken the French straight back to the heady days of 1998.

Zinedine Zidane
France's veterans have come good in 2006

This is fairytale stuff. Several of the revered World Cup heroes from eight years ago are in the final again.

Then, Lilian Thuram scored both goals as France beat Croatia in the semi-final.

Against Portugal he was named man of the match, a reminder that Zinedine Zidane is not the only 34-year-old turning time on its head.

While all that's missing from Fabien Barthez in goal is the sight of Laurent Blanc planting a kiss on his forehead, as the former defender used to do before each match.

This time round, people are more realistic about the prospect of another multiracial 'black-blanc-beur' team changing the face of France.

After all, within two years of the French victory at Euro 2000, the Jean-Marie Le Pen had reached the run-off in the presidential election.

In 2006 the Front National leader spoke out just before France's match against Spain.

The country could not recognise itself in the national side, he said. Maybe the coach had exaggerated the proportion of "players of colour".

Last laugh

Many will feel the best riposte to such comments has been the number of delirious black and brown faces among the crowds in front of the big screens, on the Champs Elysees, or jumping for joy in front of TV news cameras elsewhere.

Crowds celebrate in Paris
The World Cup has restored a sense of joie de vivre

Pascal Boniface, the director of the Institute for International Relations in Paris, told French radio after the semi-final that other sectors of French society could learn something from the World Cup finalists.

"There are more black faces in the national side," he said, "than in the whole of the Assemblee Nationale".

Until last week, Raymond Domenech had seemed to defy reality after each disappointing performance.

Like a monotonous wind-up doll, he kept repeating in deadpan fashion that his team's objective was to be in Berlin on 9 July.

Now, the country is very much hoping that the much-criticised French coach has the last laugh.




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