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Euro 2016: Why France have everything to play for

France’s 1998 World Cup-winning ‘rainbow’ team, with its stars such as Lilian Thuram, created hope of a new multicultural spirit, but it descended into discord and rancour. Can the Euro 2016 squad lift a nation beset by terrorist fears and racial strife?

The days and weeks after the Paris attacks last November were especially harrowing and strange for those who lived in the city. Mostly people just wanted to get back to feeling normal again as quickly as they could, but this was impossible. Everywhere you went you saw something that reminded you of what had just happened – armed soldiers on the Métro, barbed wire at tourist sights and other public places. Everybody was tense, angry or depressed, often all at the same time: it was like living in a city on the edge of a collective nervous breakdown. Strangely, however, one of the few cheering moments during this raw time was the friendly football match between France and England played at Wembley stadium on 17 November – a mere four days after the slaughter.

That the match was played at all was a brave and reassuring gesture. Most importantly, the prelude to the game was organised as a symbolic show of solidarity with France. The slogan Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité was emblazoned on the heights of the stadium. The terraces were decked out in the red, white and blue of the French flag. In a pre-match tribute to the victim of the attacks, English and French players stood together to observe a perfectly sustained minute of silence. Most incredibly, and movingly, the whole crowd, including English fans who had never handled a French irregular verb in their lives, roared out the Marseillaise at full throttle.

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