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The history of football is a sad voyage from beauty to duty.
Friday, July 07, 2006

Brothers in Arms

A ceux qui revent
A ceux que les reves d'enfants font avancer
A ceux, comme ces enfants Bleus qui les ont realises
Continuons a rever...

He is smiling. There he is, standing up amid a huge crowd. You can bet that he too would have liked to have worn his studs tonight. The entire country is as one, and Michel Platini, from high up in the VIP stand at the Stade de France, savours this victory from across the years. Time has passed but the hurt remains. Nagging, alive. 1982 and 1986, the two semi-finals in which French football brushed the heavens, and surely the very godhead of the round ball itself. On this 12 July, Les Bleus' victory is his victory as well. From up on high he signals to the players to take it all in, to make the most of the moment. With his long experience, he knows that some moments are more important than others. And tonight he is both a player and co-president of CFO (Comite Francais de la XVIe Coupe du Monde). He wears the blue shirt next to his heart, under his suit jacket. But there's room for others in his heart as well, especially for Fernand Sastre, his 'favourite co-president'. 'Merci Fernand' flashes the giant screen at the Stade de France, written and signed by Platini himself over a picture of the face of the man who started it all. It's now an hour since Mr Belqola whistled for full time, and sent Les Bleus straight to heaven. For all eternity.

Telling Le Pen where to get off

D-Day is set for 12 July 1998. Even though Les Bleus know that they have already achieved something special, they realise that beating current world champions Brazil will be no easy task. Ever since their victory over Italy, and especially since they overcame Croatia, the whole of France, man and woman alike, from worker to politician, is solidly behind Jacquet's men. The female supporters astonish everyone with the passion and devotion they demonstrate for the French team, as well as injecting fresh blood into the traditional cast of supporters. There is nothing more wonderful than to hear 'La Marseillaise' sung by thousands of women in a stadium.

People have gone crazy about this dream final. The players' wish to see the stadium filled with colour rather than suits has been fulfilled. The McDonald's fast-food chain, one of the sponsors, has offered $1 million to the scorer of a hat-trick in the match. And nobody could have foreseen the tremendous surge in popularity enjoyed by the president and the prime minister. What has become known as the 'World Cup effect' proves that nothing is more serious than sport. Television audiences took off during the semi-final stage, and slightly over 2 billion viewers are expected to watch the final itself. The whole country has gone completely mad over football.

But all this is secondary to the game itself. Jacquet's men prepared for the final in the same way as for the other matches. Although up untl then there had been no hint of gamesmanship between Jacquet and his Brazilian counterpart, Mario Zagallo, one hour before the match was due to kick off, Laurent Blanc reported to his trainer that the Brazilian teamsheet listed Ronaldo as a mere substitute. It was true that the Brazilian star had scarcely trained since their semi-final against the Netherlands, but it seemed incredible that Brazil would go as far as depriving themselves of the presence in the starting line-up of one of the best players in the world.

Jacquet didn't really believe what he'd been told, but nonetheless planned some changes. Four floors below, Ronaldo's girlfriend, Susana Werner, was weeping in the organisers' office, desperately awaiting news of her partner, who had been taken to hospital several hours earlier after suffering convulsions. Ronaldo eventually reappeared at 8 pm, just an hour before kick-off. The Brazilian teamsheet returned to its original form: Aime Jacquet had been wise to wait.

As Mr Belqola blew his whistle to signal the start of the game, the models who had just appeared in the Yves Saint Laurent fashion show were still changing in their dressing room. In even more of a hurry than the rest was the future Mme Karembeu, Adriana Zverenikova.

Very soon after the match began, Aime Jacquet's Bleus found the weakness in Zagallo's system: poor marking from place licks. Didier Deschamps and his team heeded their coach's advice; all that was left for them to do was to fire the machine called Zidane into orbit.

The kid from Castelle was the undisputed hero of the final. He scored twice, with two searing headers from corners, giving Les Bleus a comfortable lead as the teams left the pitch at half-time. The other unforgettable image is of Fabian Barthez soaring above an out-of-sorts Ronaldo, who was nevertheless only two fingers short of stopping French celebrations dead in their tracks. Emmanuel Petit rounded off the scoring in this sixteenth World Cup final. The national team had achieved one of the greatest victories in the annals of French sport.

France went mad. In Marseilles, Lens, Toulouse, and Bordeaux the landmark town squares were invaded. The historic moment was celebrated across the land, in town and countryside alike. Rouget de Lisle had not been thinking of the World Cup when he described the feeling in the French national anthem, but this too was truly a time when 'le jour de gloire est arrive'. In Les Bleus' changing room the joy was unrestrained. Chirac and and Jospin couldn't keep away, and the champagne flowed non-stop. The Champs Elysees was overrun by a jubilant crowd chanting 'Zidane President,' and the same message was taken up on the electronic display as the Arc de Triomphe.

Even compared to the jubilation that followed Les Bleus' victory over Croatia, this was celebration on a colossal scale. And what a kick in the face for all those facists, in their various guises, to see black, white and Arab marching hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder. From the Kanak to the Armenian, the Spaniard and the Ghanaian, this French team represented the victory of an entire multicultural generation, a generation others had been too ready to characterise as ruined or lost. The world's most beautiful streets hadn't seen such crowds since the Liberation. And indeed french football had put an end to the lean years of disappointment and was free again.

The team coach took almost three hours to reach Clairefontaine, where a dinner was laid on for the players and their partners. The night was still young and France was embarking on a well-deserved binge. And Platini was smiling.

posted by Trilby at 4:53 pm
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This blog is written by a thirtysomething man who awoke one day to a startling epiphany. If you spend thirty years of your life playing, watching, listening, reading and debating football, the chances are, football is all that you will know.

This is a blog about a thirtysomething man who awoke one day to a startling epiphany. If you spend thirty years of your life playing, watching, listening, reading and debating football, then chances are, football is all that you will know.

The Writer

This is a little bigger with the line-height adjusted to fit the style.

This blog is written by a thirtysomething man who awoke one day to a startling epiphany. If you spend thirty years of your life playing, watching, listening, reading and debating football, the chances are, football is all that you will know.


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