Buoyant French upbeat before semi-final

July 5, 2006

PARIS, July 5 (Reuters) - Replica France shirts have sold out, French politicians are confidently predicting victory and the press is waxing lyrical before France's World Cup semi-final match against Portugal on Wednesday.

'France in search of a new exploit,' the daily Le Figaro said on its front page next to a large picture of the team's talismanic leader Zinedine Zidane and new hope Franck Ribery.

After much grumbling as France struggled to make progress against modest first round opposition, the media and supporters have reacted ecstatically to the reinvigorated team's second round and quarter-final victories over Spain and Brazil.

Dubbing it a 'factory of dreams', Le Parisien newspaper said the team had completely won over the country.

'Their secret? Talent, character and above all men, worshipped by their supporters, who embody France in its mosaic of cultures, origins and religions. All made up of the same virtues of work, humility and honour,' it said.

The streets of French towns have been flooded with a noisy sea of flag-waving revellers after the matches, blaring car horns have filled the evening air and the sweltering late night Paris metro trains have rung to chants of 'Allez Les Bleus!'.

Shops were reported to have sold out of replica French kit in both blue and white, with heavy demand for shirts bearing Zidane's name.

Politicians, alive to the public impact and hoping for a repeat of the feel-good boost from France's only World Cup title in 1998, have thrown their weight behind the team.

President Jacques Chirac travelled to Germany for the quarter-final against Brazil and hopes to be in Berlin for the final on July 9 if France win on Wednesday while Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin will be in Munich for the Portugal game.

A huge sign saying 'Allez la France' has been hung in front of the French parliament and government ministers have revealed unexpected levels of expertise.

'We will win, as usual, with panache,' said small business minister Renaud Dutreil, predicting a 2-1 victory for France.