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France's night out, ahead of day of reckoning

Vaiju Naravane

Scenes of revelry, start of all-night parties with fireworks, music, noise, hooting and champagne

Paris: For the second time in the space of a week, France exploded with incredulous joy as captain Zinedine Zidane converted a penalty kick to push France into the World Cup final against Italy on Sunday.

Even as the final whistle blew, fans watching the game in cafes along the Champs Elysees here poured out into one of the world's most famous avenues. That was the start an all-night party with fireworks, music, a great deal of kissing and embracing, noise, hooting and, of course, champagne.

The celebrations were, however, marred by the death of a reveller who climbed onto the roof of a Paris underground train near the Opera and fell to his death.

France is now again hoping the Black, Blanc, Beur dream team (a reference to the mainly Black, White and Arab origins of the players) that won them the title in 1998 will give a repeat performance.

In the early qualifiers when the French appeared to be off form, commentators here used the team's performance as a metaphor for the general mood of economic malaise in France, which has seen a heightening of racial tensions.

Could a second World cup victory revive the old optimism about a more fraternal, just and egalitarian society, many editorialists wondered. The aging triumvirate of Zinedine Zidane (Algerian origin) Lillian Thuram (black) and Fabien Barthes, the white goalkeeper who have already announced their retirement - indeed Thuram had to be persuaded to come out of retirement for the Championship — has made many a French critic eat his shirt.

The French victory made the country's police force breathe easier. It was feared that a Portuguese victory would lead to clashes with the very sizeable Portuguese community living in this country.

"Finally it was good that the French won. We might have seen some rioting if the result had been the other way around," confided Olivia Martin, a 42-year-old Portuguese working class woman living in Paris. "My daughters wanted to go to the stadium to watch the match on giant screens but I forbade them to do so. I was worried there would be trouble if Portugal won and if members of my community showed their happiness too openly. France is my adoptive country but my heart still beats for Portugal like countless others here in France. I feel sad Portugal lost, but this result is better for social peace and harmony", she said.

Earlier, remarks by some extremist commentators criticising what they called the Portuguese community's "divided loyalties" had raised the hackles of people like Ms. Martin.

The Portuguese population makes up the largest community of foreign migrants in France - an estimated 20 per cent of all foreigners living in this country. Most Portuguese migrations took place during the 1960s and early 1970s when Portugal was still in the grip of the Salazar dictatorship.

The community remains tightly knit with its own radio station, newspapers and several hundred cultural associations.

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