France's 'Rainbow Team' look backs at historic World Cup triumph

The faces of the fans on the street were as diverse as those they were cheering on the pitch.France's victorio...

Posted: Jun 8, 2018 11:49 AM
Updated: Jun 8, 2018 11:49 AM

The faces of the fans on the street were as diverse as those they were cheering on the pitch.

France's victorious 1998 World Cup squad, nicknamed the "Rainbow Team," was composed of players with backgrounds from all corners of the globe.

Their victory against Brazil, which secured the nation's first ever World Cup, is estimated to have drawn at least a million men, women and children -- of white, black and Arab heritage -- to Paris' Champs--lys-es.

Some accounts estimated as many as 1.5 million French fans lined the famous shopping street to celebrate.

With a squad made up of players with ethnic backgrounds from North Africa, West Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific islands, Armenia and the Basque country, there was hope this team could help improve the legacy pf France's complex history of race relations.

"It was a moment of communion," former France defender Marcel Desailly, who was born in Accra to Ghanaian parents, told CNN.

"The fans, everybody was together. No racism, no discrimination, everybody was happy in France."

READ: 11 moments that shook the World Cup

READ: And the winner of the World Cup is...

Sitting beside Desailly was Robert Pires, his friend and teammate in that World Cup-winning side.

"It was very important to share this trophy with the fans," said Pires, who himself was born to a Portuguese father and Spanish mother.

"But, look, it was full -- the Champs--lys-es. Even on the roof of the Arc de Triomphe. Black, white," he said, gesturing to Desailly, then to himself. "It was a good mix, an amazing moment."

Possibly the only people in the entire country who would have shut their doors on the outside celebrations were the supporters of France's far-right Front National.

The party's leader at the time, Jean-Marie Le Pen, protested that the diverse ethnic roots that ran through the squad meant this was not truly a "French" team and this was not a victory for the nation at all.

Le Pen went as far as to say some members of the team were "unworthy" and focused much of his ire on those who appeared not to sing the national anthem.

Which defining World Cup moment stands out for you? Have your say on our Facebook page or by tweeting @CNNSport

That France's victory helped unite a nation -- if only temporarily -- was quite an achievement at a time when Front National was regularly garnering around 15% of the French vote.

Le Pen went on to compete in the presidential election runoff four years later, but in the weeks following the World Cup triumph, Socialist Jacques Chirac -- then the President -- saw his approval soar to 68%, its highest level since he was elected three years earlier.

Both Pires and Desailly said they were aware of the criticism from Le Pen and Front National.

"Honestly, I didn't care about it," Desailly said. "I'm French with an origin in Africa. It was good to have Algerian origin, Guadeloupe (on the team)," he adds, referring to the team's mix.

"At the end of the day, yes, we were all French and we fought for the same flag and this brought some kind of spirit into the country -- a positive spirit.

"To be able, as a group of players from all different origins, to win and be an example was great. It's been amazing.

"The politicians have tried to grab this opportunity to maintain the system. With sport they cannot be concerned. Sport is sport -- it belongs to the sportspeople."

READ: 'Messi is the greatest ever,' says Rashford

READ: Hope Solo does not back North America's 2026 bid

'Zidane President'

The poster boy of the 1998 national team, and scorer of two goals in the final win over Brazil, was Zinedine Zidane.

At the time, the midfielder was established as one of the world's best players and came to symbolize this new, diverse France.

Zidane was born in the tough Marseille suburbs to Algerian parents, who had emigrated to France in the 1950s.

Much of his childhood and early playing days were shaped by spectators and opponents who would mock his heritage, to which Zidane would react angrily.

But as the hordes descended on the Champs--lys-es to celebrate France's victory, Zidane's image was projected onto big screens all down the avenue.

"Zidane for President," the crowd chanted for their new French-Algerian hero.

This was truly an historic moment, as the tensions of France and Algeria's colonial history were eased, even if only for an evening.

"It was important," Pires said of that day. "The mix, (it was) cosmopolitan. The people, especially the team, the French national team.

"We said in France 'black, white and brown' -- brown was for the Algerian people, because we have a large community from Africa.

"So that's why this moment, for all the people in France, it was an amazing moment for unity."

Another star of the "Rainbow Team" was Christian Karembeu, one of the players who came under criticism for not singing "La Marseillaise" due to France's colonization of his homeland.

Born in New Caledonia, a French overseas territory 1,200 kilometers off the coast of Australia, Karembeu moved to France as a teenager to pursue his dream of making it as a footballer.

He said the importance of France's victory came from allowing fans, like him and his teammates, to be able to feel close to their ethnic roots while simultaneously feeling pride in being French.

"We know where we come from," Karembeu said proudly. "I come from New Caledonia, a small island, Desailly from Ghana, (Lillian) Thuram from Martinique.

"We know that football can unite and we have done that. We achieved a great goal to unite the French people, to be proud to be French.

"There is no minority anymore and we know that we are cosmopolitan and we feel integrated. We need to be part of the nation. Sports give the essence to everyone to think like that."

History in the making?

The man leading the current French national team is Didier Deschamps, who captained the World Cup-winning 1998 squad.

He presides over arguably the most talented French squad since the "Rainbow Team," featuring the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Raphael Varane.

Two years ago, Deschamps led France to the European Cup final -- a competition he won as captain in 2000 -- on home soil, where the team agonizingly lost to Portugal in extra time.

Desailly believes it is time for the current crop of players, which is similarly diverse to his generation, to finally break the shackles of 1998 and make history of their own.

"We will be happy if France make it to victory, to make the French people (happy) and also to kill the idea that we won it '20 years ago,'" he said.

"It's a very good generation, where you have talented players, where the pure talent is just amazing. It just needs a little bit of experience, but it will come and we will probably be happy.

"But Brazil is still stronger than us, Germany is still stronger than us, so let's be patient. Maybe if we play well we can go through."

Pires echoed Desailly's sentiments, recognizing the threat many of the opposing countries will present in Russia, but said he has faith his former captain is the man to lead the current generation to France's second World Cup triumph.

With the country again wrestling with complex race relations -- Marine Le Pen, like her father before her, reached the presidential election runoff in 2017, winning 33.9% of the votes -- there is the hope that a new victory will go some way to help heal the recent tensions.

"I believe in this team, I believe in the manager," Pires said. "Marcel and me, we know perfectly the manager -- he's Didier Deschamps. He can make it a success. They have a good team, a great team, a young team.

"This is a very good opportunity for the players to try to win the World Cup. Of course, it's very difficult, because when you play at a World Cup you have teams like Brazil, Germany, Spain -- they are the favorites.

"But I believe in France, always."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 483790

Reported Deaths: 6543
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1003791583
Ramsey42945800
Dakota36091387
Anoka33200384
Washington21986254
Stearns18703200
St. Louis14746262
Scott13209107
Wright12489115
Olmsted1176188
Sherburne869772
Carver765240
Clay688887
Rice667191
Blue Earth591035
Kandiyohi578474
Crow Wing518381
Chisago496844
Otter Tail481370
Benton444890
Winona416649
Mower402731
Douglas392268
Nobles386547
Goodhue384468
Polk342262
McLeod338349
Beltrami336751
Morrison323547
Lyon312444
Itasca311646
Becker309941
Isanti305354
Carlton299848
Steele299211
Pine281916
Freeborn279823
Nicollet256041
Todd246330
Brown243537
Le Sueur233920
Mille Lacs226747
Cass219124
Waseca208617
Meeker206934
Martin188228
Wabasha18613
Roseau179617
Hubbard160640
Houston157114
Dodge15154
Renville149040
Redwood146527
Fillmore13708
Chippewa135935
Cottonwood134520
Pennington131816
Wadena130220
Faribault122716
Aitkin118733
Sibley117110
Watonwan11708
Rock115614
Kanabec107319
Pipestone101424
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9438
Jackson93310
Swift87918
Pope8025
Marshall77615
Stevens7398
Lake73518
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68216
Wilkin66910
Koochiching61711
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5052
Grant4908
Norman4768
Unassigned44568
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40821
Red Lake3625
Traverse3025
Lake of the Woods2161
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 361499

Reported Deaths: 5412
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58007549
Linn20606312
Scott18279207
Black Hawk16223290
Woodbury14924211
Johnson1380473
Dubuque13522194
Dallas1132690
Pottawattamie10762143
Story1018945
Warren553474
Clinton542484
Cerro Gordo532781
Webster517687
Marshall495572
Sioux493469
Buena Vista472736
Des Moines457061
Muscatine450691
Wapello4314108
Jasper416266
Plymouth394277
Lee374752
Marion358469
Jones294354
Henry293037
Carroll285348
Bremer279154
Crawford273435
Boone259130
Washington253747
Benton252054
Mahaska223846
Jackson221138
Dickinson217238
Tama212965
Kossuth208154
Clay193125
Hamilton191942
Delaware188639
Winneshiek188427
Buchanan184629
Fayette184335
Page182619
Hardin180839
Wright179531
Harrison179469
Cedar177023
Clayton168053
Butler165831
Mills162820
Floyd162740
Madison154018
Poweshiek153630
Cherokee153535
Hancock146729
Lyon145941
Allamakee144946
Iowa144223
Grundy138830
Appanoose138647
Jefferson138232
Winnebago137730
Calhoun133311
Cass133351
Mitchell130640
Louisa128341
Union126331
Chickasaw124813
Sac124218
Emmet120940
Shelby120433
Franklin118419
Humboldt117225
Guthrie116228
Palo Alto104921
Montgomery103936
Howard102821
Clarke100320
Unassigned9850
Keokuk97829
Monroe93128
Adair91928
Ida90832
Pocahontas85219
Davis82523
Monona81527
Greene76910
Lucas73221
Osceola70314
Worth6947
Taylor66312
Fremont5869
Decatur5749
Van Buren56018
Ringgold51820
Wayne48721
Audubon4869
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Mostly Cloudy
21° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 13°
Mason City
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 7°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 11°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 11°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 9°
Tracking a cool start to the work week then a big warm-up!
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Grizzlies clinch playoff spot

Image

Sex trafficking bill

Image

Vigil for Rochester crash victim

Image

Sara's Sunday Night Forecast

Image

Sara's Sunday Evening Forecast

Image

Cardboard sled race

Image

Sara's Saturday Night Forecast

Image

Bleu Duck local food market

Image

Aaron's Saturday Forecast

Image

Lake City athlete inspires community, experiences unforgettable senior night

Community Events