Tunisia Wins the African Cup of Nations (2004)
This has been a decade rich in symbolism in the French football world. It is of course simply a game, but it is THE game. It is the sport with the widest spread across the world, and the one that can highlight both unity and divisions. This was certainly the case in 2001, when a friendly match between France and Algeria at the Stade de France was abandoned after fans invaded the pitch. It caused something of a scandal and much hand-wringing nationally, but the reality was a rather joyous looking bunch of youths from the suburbs of Paris enjoying their moment on live television.
More symbolic for the French was the booing and whistling of La Marseillaise before the games against the two other former North African colonies, Morocco in 2007 and Tunisia in 2008. Perhaps most shocking of all though was when the same thing happened before the French Cup final in 2002. The perpetrators that time? The supporters of Bastia from the island of Corsica. The President Jacques Chirac was so incensed that he walked out!
On the pitch, there were also many surprises. The famous Black, Blanc, Beur team that won the World Cup for France in 1998 was so named because of the widespread origins of many members of the team. Four years later, the team was beaten 1.0, and at its own game, by former colony Senegal who fielded several French players in their starting line-up.
The most stupendous event of the decade though was surely Zinedine Zidane's moment of madness in the final of the 2006 World Cup. Zidane, the hero of the 1998 victory and one the most popular people in the country, was playing his last ever football match, but he chose to sign off his career by head-butting the Italian Marco Materazzi. From the bars in the street below my window there was an audible sigh of disbelief, and on my television a heartfelt and iconic message from the now sadly deceased commentator Thierry Gilardi "Pas ça Zinedine, pas aujourd'hui, pas maintenant, pas après tous ce que tu as fait".
The ignominy of the national team continued right up to the end of the decade with the famous hand of Thierry Henry helping them to qualification to next year's World Cup finals. The French national team will be certainly be looking to this event to begin making friends again.
Have there been no positive moments in France during this decade? It certainly started very well for the country with a rather fortuitous victory in the Euro 2000 tournament, but the lack of passion shown in Paris has made my memory of this event fade away almost to nothing. No, for truly spontaneous outbursts of joy in the streets of Paris, only one event particularly stands out in my mind - the victory of the Tunisian national side in the 2004 African Cup of Nations.
Living in Belleville, the Tunisian quarter of Paris, I became more and more involved in the tournament with each game. The ritual in the street was always the same. A procession of beeping cars before the match, a large gathering in the street in front of the café showing the game, roars and hooters each time the Tunisian team scored, and grown men and women dancing, hugging and blocking the traffic at the end of each victory. As the Tunisian team lifted the trophy at the end of the final, my street seemed to catch fire, as flares and red and white flags were held up to the sky. Of course, most of the individuals celebrating were French, but is there anything wrong with showing pride in your origins?