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WORLD CUP

‘Winning World Cup would unite France, if just for a short while’

People in France are hoping a World Cup final triumph against Croatia on Sunday could help unite the country's different ethnic groups like it did in 1998, if only for a while.

'Winning World Cup would unite France, if just for a short while'
AFP

France take on Croatia on Sunday in the World Cup final and French fans are hoping a victory for the team will do more for the country than just spark huge street parties for the night.

Much of the build up to the final has focussed on the last time France won the World Cup back in 1998 when the success of the multi-racial team of “black-blanc-beur” (black-white-Arab) team prompted speculation that football would heal the division in French society.

(The victorious so-called Black-Blanc-Beur team of 1998. AFP)

There is similar talk this time round. 

Although no one expects a win over to Croatia by another multi-racial French team will heal a country where the far right National Front party picked up 11 million voices in the second round of last year's presidential election, they know it can't hurt.

Winning the World Cup would also be uniting in terms of national identity, just like it was last time around,” Yoni Ezra, 28, an entrepreneur from Paris told The Local.

“France was divided in 1998, but there was a sense of unity under one flag behind this team of players coming from different ethnic backgrounds but who are still french. It won't be a lasting impact but it will help.”

Mathilde Pittet, 27, a data analyst said: “I also think we have such a beautiful team with so much diversity and cohesion, and they all come together for a joint objective, it can change mentalities.”

There is also hope that the performance of the French team, many of whose players herald from poor immigrant suburbs where unemployment is high and hopes of breaking out of the cycle of poverty have been low, will inspire others.

“I would hope that the youth living in less privileged communities would see the success of many of these young players in the national team that may come from these same areas as inspiration that you can make it big in life, they can say 'I can do it too',” said data analyst Pittet.

But while football might inspire youths the reality is the routes out of the banlieues are limited.

“The only way out to make it here is in sport or rap,” said Ismail Gencel, the owner of a restaurant in the suburb of Bondy where French starlet Kylian Mbappé (pictured below) hails from.

Historian Yvan Gastaut concluded in a 2007 article about immigration and football that France's 1998 World Cup win had led to nothing more than an “enchanted interlude”.

What we can be certain is that if France wins then the supports who will be watching in bars, cafés and at big screens across the country will enjoy that “enchanted interlude”.

If the scenes of jubilant supporters jumping on the top of buses and clinging from lampposts after the semi-final win over Belgium are anything to go by France will go wild once again on Sunday evening in the event of victory.

“Everyone will be in a good mood and most of all, we’ll party! We’ll party hard,” said Victor Chatin, 24, a cheesemonger from Clermont-Ferrand.

Bertrand Garreta, 52, Real Estate Agent, Paris said: “I remember 20 years ago, people celebrated for what seemed like an entire year.”

But of course not everyone in the country is interested. There will be a few who won't be glued to a television set tomorrow night, nor do they care who wins or loses, like Christophe Olibe, 33, Store Manager, Narbonne south of France.

“I don’t care about the World Cup because I don’t like football, it’s full of assholes,” he said.

by Lina Agabani Puch

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FOOTBALL

France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

READ ALSO: France coach laments 'failure' as hosts knocked out of World Cup

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