There was flair to their soccer and passion to their approach. So typically French.
Yet it took them nearly 70 years to get it right. When they did on Sunday, it was so perfect that it set off the wildest celebrations France has seen since World War II.Vive la France, champions of soccer for the first time after a stunning 3-0 rout of mighty Brazil. The entire nation, caught up in soccer fever like never before, might not stop partying until, well, the next World Cup.
"We won the final because we wanted it the most," coach Aime Jacquet said. "It was the result of hard work. We really worked as a team. There was good will and friendship between all of us."
The fans in the flying-saucer-shaped Stade de France felt it, singing and cheering and worshipping their champions. Fans from the Mediterranean to the beaches of Normandy shared their joy, and carried it into the streets, partying long into the night.
Never has France had a team like this. Never has it had a playmaker like Zinedine Zidane, the magician of Marseille who turned goal-scorer Sunday with two in the first half. Never has it had anything like Fabien Barthez, the fierce-looking, bald-headed goalkeeper who allowed just two goals in the tournament - and none to four-time champion Brazil.
"It's all that we expected. It's incredible. There are no words," Zidane said.
France has never been a power in Europe along the lines of Germany and Italy, both three-time Cup winners. And the sport has never before been such a raging passion for the French.
But all day Sunday, in anticipation of exactly what happened at night, they were in a festive mood. People hung out of cars, the horns honking as they waved flags and shouted "Allez La France." French youngsters walked the streets, their faces painted in the blue, red and white national colors, shouting down any Brazilians who might samba by.
One French TV station even covered - without interruption - the team's bus ride to the stadium in this Paris suburb.
After the rout, there was no need for any other television programming. Not that anybody was watching: There was too much revelry outside to not be part of it.
"We played better and better because we had confidence and we proved we had great players," Jacquet added.
Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, turned the nation's hopes into magnificent reality with one of the best performances in World Cup finals history. He scored twice on headers - his first goals of a tournament he began by getting suspended for two games. By the time Emmanuel Petit made it 3-0 in the final seconds, the French festival had begun.
"I badly wanted to score at least one goal in this World Cup and I only had the final left to do it," Zidane said.
When the referee blew the final whistle, the French players stormed the field and Barthez kneeled in prayer in front of his net, tears flowing down his cheeks. Zidane kissed every teammate he could get near, while others lay on the field, kicking their legs in the air in delirious joy.
Then all of the winners gathered arm in arm and jumped up and down, hands in the air, inviting their countrymen to join along.
The thoroughly beaten Brazilians sat stunned, trying to figure out how they came up so flat in the biggest of games. They watched silently as the French players carried a huge flag of their "tricoleur" jersey around the field.
"Brazil lost the final in the first half," coach Mario Zagallo said. "In the second half we did everything we could but we were not able to make up the difference.
"The whole nation was behind France. The fifth title will have to be some other time. This wasn't our day. France was better."
As the French players were handed their championship medals, each received a hearty hug from Michel Platini, the nation's greatest player and the organizer of France 98. Then captain Didier Deschamps was presented the Jules Rimet Trophy, setting off more celebrations.
Rimet invented the World Cup, which began in 1930. Finally, his countrymen own it.
The French secured their place in the pantheon of great teams by throttling the defending champions. And France did it in its first tournament appearance since 1986 - when it eliminated Brazil in a quarterfinal shootout.
France is the first host to win the championship since Argentina in 1978.
Winner of all seven of its games, the French beat Brazil at its own game and did so down a man for the last 22 minutes after defender Marcel Desailly was ejected for rough play.
It was France that had the style and Brazil that was overly cautious and sloppy. It was France that threatened from the opening kickoff, and it was Brazil that was reeling all night.
Brazil won its titles in 1958, 1962, 1970 and four years ago. Its only previous loss in the final came at home in 1950 to Uruguay.
The French got lots of help from the Brazilians for the victory.
Brazil didn't come out for warmups before the game, and it barely made an appearance in the first half. Except for a short flurry midway through the half, it was all France.
In the second half, Brazil came the closest to beating Barthez when Ronaldo had a point-blank shot from 8 yards. But Barthez made the save.
The 3-0 score was indicative of how dominant the French were. They controlled the ball, they made world two-time player of the year Ronaldo disappear - a sore ankle for which he was examined at a hospital in the morning certainly helped - and their star, Zidane, was unstoppable.
The first score came off a mistake by Roberto Carlos, who conceded a corner kick when he couldn't clear the ball along the right sideline. Petit's kick found the head of Zidane, who climbed over defender Leonardo to send it home.
Zidane also set up a breakaway for Stephane Guivarc'h on which goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel barely got his hand on the shot. Moments later, Youri Djorkaeff's corner kick was headed by Zidane between the legs of Roberto Carlos and into the net to make it 2-0.
It was the worst World Cup half for Brazil since 1990, and probably the best France has ever played. And things never changed.