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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
France's dream team in the spotlight
France celebrate their World cup win in 1998
France celebrate the 1998 World Cup win

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When France won the World Cup on home soil four years ago, the victory was significant for more than simply footballing reasons.

In a country with a history of racial tension, the national side was hailed as an example of a new, racially integrated France.

Zinedine Zidane, whose two goals in the final against Brazil sealed the World Cup win, was the son of Algerian immigrants.

Zinedine Zidane playing for France
Zidane is the son of an Algerian immigrant
Fellow midfielder Youri Djorkaeff's roots lay in Armenia, while the defence was founded on the black backbone of Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram.

Now, four years after that triumph at the Stade de France, the success of far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the French presidential elections has cast a shadow over the dream of a rainbow nation, according to Pierre Minesse of French sports daily L'Equipe.

"We said of the team that it was 'black, blanc and beurs', meaning it was made up of blacks, whites and people of Arabic descent," he told BBC Sport Online.

"There was hope after the World Cup and Euro 2000 wins.

"A lot of people thought it was the best thing for good race relations in France, and good for issues of immigration.

"These election results give another answer. They show that sport and politics are not the same thing.

"The example of the team has maybe stayed only an example. People have made a distinction between sport and their personal lives."

Disaster for national team

Minesse, who is close to several members of the French squad, believes the heroes of 1998 will be deeply upset by Le Pen's shock success.
France lift the European Championship in 2000
Didier Deschamps raises the European Championship in 2000

"Now the players are so famous, it is very difficult for them to talk politics," he said.

"But for a lot of people in France, including the players in the national team, it is a disaster.

"There will not be one player who is voting for Le Pen - I am sure of that."

Racial issues enveloped the team last October, when France played Algeria for the first time since granting its former colony independence in 1962.

Prior to the match, Paris police received a death threat aimed at Marseilles-born Zidane, whose parents hail from the Kabylie region of Algeria.

"The game was a very bad advertisement for friendship in sport," said Minesse.

"It could have been a very important symbol of friendship and good relations in the community.

"There were a lot of French Algerians in the crowd. The stadium was green and white. But the whole stadium whistled the French national anthem."

Thierry Henry playing for France
Henry's goals will be crucial to France this summer
With France leading 4-1 with 12 minutes to go, 300 Algerian fans invaded the pitch.

After CRS riot police chased them off, bottles and seating were thrown onto the playing surface and the match was abandoned.

Shock waves

There are many factors in Le Pen's improved showing in the presidential elections, not least the low voter turn-out and the fragmentation of the left wing vote.

It is considered highly unlikely that the National Front leader will win the final round of voting and become president.

But the results of the first round have dented hopes that success on the football pitch could do as much for national unity as South Africa's triumph at the 1995 rugby World Cup did for that divided country.

"It's very good that the World Cup is in one month, for then everyone will be talking about the football team and not Le Pen," said Minesse.

"The show must go on. If France win the title again, with all the black players - Thuram, Henry, Desailly - Zidane from Algeria, Djorkaeff from Armenia - that is the best answer that can be given to Le Pen."

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