The effect on French attitudes of the success engineered by Zidane, Thuram, Henry and Desailly -- all of African origin -- has been palpable: "The soccer team has done more to promote racial tolerance in France, and pride and a sense of belonging among its immigrant population, than anything the government could ever have done," says Sancton. So whether or not they beat Brazil in Sunday's final, they've already trounced Le Pen.
PARIS: You'd think France's World Cup soccer exploits would whip the country's right-wing nationalist politicians into a patriotic frenzy -- instead, it leaves Jean-Marie Le Pen and his ilk in an awkward position. Their problem: France's soccer heroes are mostly of African descent, and the anti-immigrant Le Pen doesn't consider them "real" Frenchmen. "In the past, Le Pen has complained about the predominance of black and Arab players and said it couldn't really be considered a French team," says TIME Paris bureau chief Tom Sancton. "But they're smart enough to know that it would be disastrous to take a stand against the team when the whole nation has united behind it. So the irony is that amid a torrent of French national pride, they're forced to keep a low profile."