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France Rallies Behind Soccer Team

July 7, 1998

CLAIREFONTAINE, France (AP) _ The message is rustling through the old oak trees of this most isolated of training camps: Surely, steadily, all of France is throwing its weight behind its team in the final week of the World Cup.

From the lukewarm reaction early in the tournament to the honking horns, traffic jams, champagne sprays and pandemonium on the Champs Elysees after the quarterfinal win over Italy last Friday, France is catching World Cup fever.

From Paris to small villages, people are talking about France’s chances with a new fervor.

``They’ve really changed. The people are a lot more for the team now,″ said painter Jose Jean-Philippe, who works in the tiny town of Senlisse, close to the team’s training camp.

He devoured a huge plate of spaghetti last Friday in honor of the quarterfinal win over Italy. He hasn’t decided yet what he will eat if France wins in Wednesday’s semifinal in Saint-Denis, about 40 miles away.

``I’ll eat something,″ he said, still trying to think of a Croatian specialty.

In often blase Paris, there is a fresh winds blowing through the boulevards.

``The best thing isn’t that the French have got into the semifinals,″ 27-year-old Laurent Samama said. ``It’s that French people are smiling at each other in the streets.″

In that Mediterranean soccer hotbed of Marseille, ``Les Bleus″ are the toast of the town. Roland Fritolli is changing one thing in his 72-year-old restaurant.

``I brought in a television set for the first time. I’ve never done this before. But after all, it’s La France,″ he said.

And behind the gates of the French training camp, through the thick coat of trees that has surrounded the team and players, the good vibrations are welcomed.

``The scenes have given me goose bumps,″ captain Didier Deschamps said. ``We saw their fervor.″

Jean-Philippe, who helped renovate the French training quarters here two years ago, said coach Aime Jacquet is a much sweeter man as than some news media make him out to be. He feels the public is turning to the coach’s side.

``You see the attitude among the people towards Jacquet has changed,″ said Jean-Philippe.

Hardly the diehard fans of Italy or Brazil, there are fears the French might give the whole World Cup a Gallic shrug of indifference if the team loses.

But if France gets to the final, Jean-Philippe can only think about the gigantic student demonstrations of 30 years ago, when the capital was total chaos.

``It will be like May ’68,″ he said. ``Everybody will be in the streets.″

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