Aux Armes, Citoyens!

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"A country needs, at certain moments, to come together around an idea that makes it proud of itself," said President Jacques Chirac at Tuesday's Bastille Day celebration. He was referring not to 1789's storming of the Bastille, but to last Sunday's storming of the Brazilian goal by France's World Cup soccer heroes, which brought 3 million people onto the streets of Paris. "This is the biggest thing that's happened since the liberation of Paris in 1944," says TIME Paris correspondent Bruce Crumley. "It has taken a nation that has been down in the dumps for six years and made them believe in themselves."

Chirac and his fellow politicians may have had to play second fiddle today to Zinedine Zidane and the rest of the French team, but they're hoping World Cup euphoria will carry the nation through its social and economic Long March. "France has to go through some tough reforms in order to overcome economic stagnation," says Crumley. "This upsurge in patriotism, national unity and can-do sentiment will give them the confidence to face an uncertain future." But there's one aspect of the soccer celebration Chirac may prefer to ignore: the recurring chant of "Zidane for President!"