The French team must beat Denmark by two goals in the match on Tuesday (June 11) if it is to stay in the international tournament.
If it loses, this will be a major victory for Le Pen, who criticised the 'black-white-brown' (the French say: 'black-blanc-beur' (1) ), multi-racial make-up of the winning team during the 1998 World Cup. Le Pen claimed that some of the foreign-born players did not even know the French national anthem.
A world footballing loss will be even more politically significant with the first round of the French parliamentary elections taking place on Sunday, June 9, and with Le Pen's near victory in the recent presidential elections.
Dr Geoff Hare, an expert in French football of the School of Modern Languages, Newcastle University, says a premature departure from this World Cup will also be a huge blow to the country's fragile national pride, which was bruised for years following a series of humiliating events, including the World War Two German Occupation and the crumbling of the French Empire in North Africa and beyond. Until their win in the 1998 World Cup, French people saw themselves in losers in everything, including football.
Dr Hare is due to publish a book on French football, and co-edited a major publication about the impact of the 1998 World Cup on France. He says:
"One of the hugely significant things during the 1998 World Cup is that the French team was composed of players of various multi-ethnic backgrounds, many originating from the former French Empire. They were multi-coloured, the 'black-blanc-beur' of French football. This actually became a major ideological and political issue in France.
"It was felt at the time that this was a symbol of the new, racially tolerant France - but to the French National Front this was a big setback for the nation. The team was openly criticised by Le Pen.
"When this multi-racial team won the World Cup, there was a huge euphoria, and it was also felt that this was a victory over the Far Right in France.
"Since then France has had an enormous shock. Before the start of this World Cup there has been the great expression of support for Le Pen during the presidential elections and a huge gloom has descended over the nation."
Dr Hare added that the French team had even got involved in the country's politics during the presidential elections, publicly urging people to vote for Jacques Chirac to keep Le Pen out of power.
"A loss at the World Cup for this multi-racial team which were once champions will be a severe dent to the French national pride and, more significantly, a victory for the National Front who criticised them back in 1998."
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Notes to editors:
1. The French word for black is 'noir' but the English word has been incorporated into the French language and is widely used. Beur is slang derived from the French word for Arab, 'Arabe'.
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