Can a new generation of French footballers unite the nation in a difficult time for the country?

The Paris attacks of last November proved to be a harrowing experience for everyone in Europe but most especially people living in the city. Since that time, the French capital’s landscape has been altered drastically. Armed soldiers and police are now part of the architecture. Barriers run around tourist sites and many public places.  The people are left longing for the days when they could move around more freely without being constantly reminded of what happened last year and the threats that they are currently living with.

For many, a return to those happier times could only be possible if everyone in France, including the aggrieved minorities, can go back and embrace the multicultural spirit of the post 1998 era, ushered in by a football team.

Zidane’s big night

In the World Cup 98 final, most expected the record-champion Brazilians to come out on top, but instead it was the French that displayed a defensive and counter-attacking master class. Led by the mercurial Zinedine Zidane, the team were two goals up before the break.  A Manuel Petit goal in injury time sealed a remarkable 3-0 win for Les Bleus as Zizou and the rest of the team became national heroes.

A few years earlier, few would have thought it possible for Zidane, with family origins in Algeria, to win the World Cup for France alongside players like Lilian Thuram, Youri Djorkaeff, Patrick Vieira, and Bixente Lizarazu. The side was aptly called the rainbow team as it encapsulated the diversity of the nation.

The conquest of the France 1998 team confirmed that winning the tournament wasn’t just about football. It helped people around the country to appreciate and embrace their cultural differences. Now there is some confidence amongst the fans and football pundits that the current team, which is very similar to the ’98 squad in terms of player origin diversity, can win the EURO 2016 tournament, taking place on their doorstep. Betting sites, new online casinos, and users of this kinds of sites are also backing Didier Deschamp’s men to triumph on home soil.

What else is at stake for Euro 2016?

Apart from the state of emergency and the tight security all over France, there is the issue of industrial action over new labour reforms. From air-traffic controllers to lorry drivers, there are threats to bring the economy to a halt during the competition and there is a sense that the police force is maxed out as they try to keep a lid on protests around the country.

Many French citizens and indeed politicians are strongly hoping that a French win in Euro 2016 will have the same effect on the polity as the 1998 victory. They are counting on the French side to quell some of the riots, terrorism fears and general anger. How will the team respond to such high expectations? We will find out soon enough.