French successes show the continent’s strength

The final whistle and confirmation of Brazil’s exit from the tournament was met with tearful disbelief from the Brazilians in the stadium. Their team had failed to avenge its defeat in the 1998 final and was leaving Germany without having performed anywhere near its potential. Record goal scorer Ronaldo in particular did not lay to rest the ghost of his performance eight years earlier. Maybe France’s victory should not have been such a shock. French influence in Frankfurt has always been strong. The city hosted the first free elected German Parliament in May 1848 after demands for a constitutional national assembly were prompted by the French Revolution just three months earlier. France’s victory on Saturday also carried political implications. After the team’s victory in 1998, the side which was largely made up of the sons of African migrants was held up as a beacon, lighting the path for the future of a racially tolerant France. Zidane was the team’s star player. His parents were Algerian. The image of Zizou, as he is nicknamed in France, was projected onto the Arc de Triomphe on the night France won the World Cup. Algerian flags were waved alongside the French tricolore. Former culture minister Jack Lang recently said in a BBC documentary that witnessing this event on the Champs Elysees was «one of the most beautiful days of my life.» Eight years on, however, France’s melting pot started to boil over as urban riots gripped the country. Nationalists such as the leader of the far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, were quick to move in and cite this as confirmation that immigration and multiculturalism had failed. Before France’s match against Brazil, Le Pen criticized the national team, which is still made up mostly of players with African origins, as not being representative of France. Thousands of Frenchmen in Frankfurt on Saturday, who were mostly white, had no objections to the makeup of the team. The supporters stayed behind at the Waldstadion to celebrate the victory with the players. But for the European teams, success has been in some part due to the use of talent with its roots in other countries. All four semifinalists have players in their ranks that were born to migrants. Germany, for example, relies on two strikers with Polish parents to score its goals. «Divide and rule, a sound motto. Unite and lead, a better one,» wrote Goethe. Many will look to the makeup of the four teams left standing in this tournament as a sign of how Europe can overcome its concerns over expansion and integration while highlighting the rewards that can be achieved if barriers are removed. Certainly, motorists driving along the highway past Frankfurt’s busy airport would have been struck by the fact that a huge billboard featuring the imperious Zidane adorns the main terminal while a fluorescent blue Euro sign twinkles in the night just meters away.