OPINION: Carl Lewis Euro event uniting the French nation

Host nation France are one win away from claiming their third European Championship, but on the eve of the tournament the national mood was a dreary one; the outlook of the impending tournament and the French team's chances matched that sentiment.

However, the national football side has succeeded in galvanising a bleak French nation at a time when it was still reeling from the Paris attacks on 13 November last year.

Not only was the fear of terrorist attacks gripping the country, the depressed national disposition at what should have been a time of celebration ahead of the tournament was amplified by a prevalent threat of industrial action in the form of strikes and violent demonstrations against labour reforms.

But gloom soon turned to optimism when Dmitri Payet scored a beautifully hit left-footed winner against Romania in the opening match of the competition which got the hosts off to the perfect start.

Payet's goal aligned the French supporters with their national team and although they might not be the best team (on paper) at the Euros, they have achieved the necessary results when it mattered, while showing real spirit which has been duplicated by the fans.

An indicator in the just how much the nation has changed its tune is their growing appreciation for Olivier Giroud, the Arsenal striker was booed vociferously pre-tournament, but his goal and assists have seemingly redeemed him in the eyes of the nation.

South Africa can relate to France as to what a profound impact sport can have on a nation's morale, with the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and the African Nations Cup in 1996 viewed fondly by South Africans.

This is exactly what is occurring in France right now: labour disputes have been put aside on the national agenda and the national team now carry the hopes of the nation squarely behind them in their pursuit of a romantic tournament win.

Their president Francois Hollande has been spotted at a number of matches, and his animated reactions are indicative of how invested the country is in their national team's fortunes at the tournament.

It probably should come as no surprise that France have made into the final of the competition that they're hosting; historically we should have seen it coming.

In 1984, a Michel Platini inspired French team were victorious in Paris when they beat Spain 2-0 to claim the Euros.

Again, France hosted the 1998 World Cup, and this time Zinedane Zidane was the facilitator, a 3-0 win against Brazil meant they got their hands on their maiden World Cup trophy, which was the catalyst for a golden period in French football.

Current French manager Didier Deschamps was the captain of the team that took the 1998 World Cup. His pragmatic leadership style has gelled excellently with the obvious individual talents his squad possesses in 2016.

France now have the opportunity win their third major tournament while hosting the event this Sunday. Their final obstacle will be a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal at the Stade De France on Sunday.

The hosts are unbeaten in the tournament and they can also lay claim to being the most potent attacking team in the competition having scored 13 goals in their six matches.

They will undoubtedly head into Sunday's final as favourites against a Portugal outfit that has laboured their way into the final. Their victory against Wales was their first win within 90 minutes in the competition.

France have only failed to hit the back of the net in one match so far - that was against Switzerland in a match where qualification to the knockout rounds was already sewn up.

Besides drawing blanks against the Swiss, France have scored two or more goals in the remaining five matches of the competition.

They also have in their ranks the tournament's top scorer, Antoine Griezmann. The diminutive and elegant left footer has accrued six goals in the competition, while his two goals in the semi-final launched them into the final.

The beauty of the French side has been their shared responsibility. Although Griezmann has scored six, many others have stood up and been counted in matches.

Payet, as mentioned previously, has three goals to his name, while the prodigiously talented and fluid Paul Pogba set up the second goal against the Germans. Goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris has also displayed his dexterity throughout the tournament and the emergence of rookie Samuel Umtiti at centre back has been nothing short of phenomenal.

There are many others who have made their mark on the tournament to help the French get to the final. The point is, the French football side is playing like a united team and the fans are responding to their performances on the field.

As a neutral, it would be a fitting to see the French take home their third European Championship at the stadium where the three explosions of the Paris attacks occurred in what will always be remembered as a harrowing night in Paris that sent shockwaves around the world.

A victory will not solve France's labour issues or keep terrorists at bay, but it can unite a nation for a moment. The experience can't be quantified, but it will have a profound impact on national morale.

In a time where many nations are polarised by divisive politics, this French team shows sport can still play an important role in society with a multi-cultural team.

Carl Lewis is a reporter for EWN Sport based in Cape Town.