Europe

France on a high ahead of game against Nigeria

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Media captionFrance's success in World Cup is helping the country to forget its problems, as Hugh Schofield reports

A bizarre and unwonted emotion has been sweeping France these last few days. It's called happiness.

In a country accustomed to gloom and low self-esteem, the exploits of the national football side in Brazil have been like a throwback to a long-lost era.

The first two matches contested by Les Bleus - against Honduras and Switzerland - produced a bonanza of eight goals, the fruit of some wonderfully confident attacking football.

Wednesday's third match against Ecuador was a disappointing 0-0 draw. But by that point, qualification for the knock-out stage was all but assured, and coach Didier Deschamps played a less-than-full-strength eleven.

The success has triggered a resurgence of football mania reminiscent of the glory days of 1998, when France hosted and won the World Cup under Deschamps' captaincy.

On Monday evening there will be thousands in Paris watching the Nigeria match on a giant screen in front of the Hotel-de-Ville.

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Image caption Les Bleus take to the field in Brasilia on Monday at 1600 GMT for the game against Nigeria
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Image caption Footballers' wives have been in evidence too at the various games
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Image caption The fans at home are closely watching their team's progress and will be hoping for another win
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Image caption Doing things on a grand scale: Watching the match with the French president

The city authorities had decided against setting up giant screens because of fears of crowd violence. Memories of 2013 when a mob wrecked Paris Saint-Germain's French League celebrations near the Eiffel Tower are very much alive.

But such has been the enthusiasm that the city hall relented - although there will be a strong police presence and the later match between Algeria and Germany will not be shown.

Also watching France-Nigeria with close attention will be President Francois Hollande. Himself a keen football fan, he has invited members of two Paris amateur clubs to see the game at the Elysee.

The president, whose poll ratings remain at a record low, is looking at travelling to Brazil if the national side gets through to the quarter-finals.

Everyone you speak to in France agrees that the achievements of Les Bleus have come as an enormous relief.

Relief not just from the daily grind of depressing news about jobs and politics. But relief too after the appalling mess-up of South Africa 2010.

That was when the national side - conforming in an almost unbelievable way to the widely held stereotype about the French - actually went on strike and refused to train.

Nicolas Anelka had been sent home for insulting coach Raymond Domenech, and this triggered a rebellion from some of his team-mates. The squabbling was public and pitiful, and the team returned to France in disgrace.

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Image caption There is still some way to go the final if France is to win the real trophy

Today everything seems very different.

"The atmosphere in Brazil is really wonderful," says Anne Verdin, of Les Irresistibles supporters' club, who has just returned to France after watching the group stage matches.

"The team is so much more together than even just one year ago. You can tell they are happy because they acknowledge us in the stands, and on social media it's not just their agents who post messages - it's the actual players.

"It's very much thanks to Didier Deschamps. He knows that a team is not just a collection of individuals. So he left out some players who might be better on paper, but who he knew would not easily share the group spirit."

For Laurent Salvaudon, football correspondent at Canal Plus television, "these are very negative times in France - what with the rise of the National Front and the unemployment problem.

"So when the team plays such positive football, it gives everyone a good feeling about what we can achieve."

It would probably be unwise to read too much into the feel-good factor.

There is a still a long way to the final; and in any case the French are notoriously fickle when it comes to football.

According to Joachim Barbier, journalist for So Foot magazine: "Here in France people don't really like football. They just adore teams that win."

But no-one can deny that it has been a great start for Les Bleus. There is hope in the national side, and there is confidence.

And that is more than can be said for the country as a whole.