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#5658
On July 12, 1998, the France national team created history by winning the country's first -- and, to date, only -- World Cup. It was one of the most memorable and intense moments the nation had ever experienced and transcended football; this triumph had social repercussions and brought a sense of unity that, arguably, had only previously come about because of war.

Moreover, as some of its protagonists explain, there is a remarkable nature to the story of France's glory, given the perception held of the team in the years leading up to the tournament.

Quotations given in French or Portuguese have been translated into English.

Staying united against the doubters
In the summer of 1994, Aime Jacquet, a respected coach who had spent the previous two years as assistant to then-head coach Gerard Houllier, took over as manager of a France side in crisis.

Les Bleus had missed that year's World Cup in the United States by virtue of a disastrous end to their qualification campaign. Needing just one point to guarantee a place, they managed to lose their last two games at home; both Israel and Bulgaria clinched victory with last-minute goals.

The trauma was huge for France and necessitated a rebuild ahead of the World Cup it would host four years later. But, despite a run to the semifinals at the 1996 European Championship in England, support for Jacquet and his team was lukewarm at best, especially in the media.

Robert Pires (former France winger and 1998 World Cup winner): We knew that [newspaper] L'Equipe had an agenda against Aime Jacquet. They didn't think that he was good enough. They questioned everything he did, all his choices, all his tactics. It became really nasty and personal too. We were all behind the manager from day one but you could feel how negative the atmosphere was around the team. It very much felt like it was us against the world.

Philippe Tournon (France press officer in 1998): [L'Equipe] very quickly adopted an anti-Jacquet position. They never believed in him. The good results at the 1996 Euros were not enough. People didn't get on board with what Jacquet wanted to do. He was working hard to find the best team for the World Cup at home. People should have let him work. Instead, he was always criticised. L'Equipe newspaper is such a strong leader of opinions. They were dictating the agenda against him and it was tough, especially in the run-up to the World Cup as performances were not great and there were a lot of doubts about the team's potential and ability to win the whole thing.

Pires: For me, the key part of the unity and solidarity the players and the staff created happened in December 1997 when Jacquet organised a get-together in Tignes, the ski resort in the Alps, for the players and their families for Christmas. The staff were there as well. It was so lovely. Everyone was chilled and enjoying the break. Jacquet had a big meeting with the players and long chats with the leaders; the likes of Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps. And he gave them a plan between then and the World Cup. He said to them: "This is how I work, this is what I will do, where we are going together." And he finished by saying: "We will do something huge in this World Cup." Now, we knew the players were on board. He convinced us to give everything for him, to believe in him and to follow him.


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