(CNN) -- Winning a World Cup can help bring a divided country together, but that sense of unity can all too easily be dissipated, according to France's Patrick Vieira, who helped his country secure football's greatest prize on home soil in 1998.
Aime Jacquet's squad was seen as representing as a new France. Vieira himself was born in Senegal, Marcel Desailly came from Ghana, Lilian Thuram from Guadeloupe, Zinedine Zidane's family hailed from Algeria, while others were of Polish and Armenian descent.
France's win was widely viewed as a rebuke to Jean-Marie Le Pen -- former leader of the right-wing National Front party -- and his anti-immigration stance.
"It was fantastic because we won it and we won it at the right time because I think politically, France was going through a difficult period and I think we won the World Cup and we showed to the French nation what France is really," Vieira, who was eligible to play for France through his grandfather, told CNN.
"We had the players from all around the world and I think we showed the diversity of the French national team, we showed what the diversity of the French people are.
"That's why it was really important to win the World Cup because we sent the message to the political world what we need to accept and what is the real face of France."
He added: "We saw Paris was going crazy but not just Paris, France was going crazy and it just looked like a French revolution -- people in the streets celebrating and it was fantastic and this is when I really realized how football can be powerful."
Football, though, can only do so much, and Vieira, who won 107 international caps, feels that those running the country missed out on a golden opportunity to enable France to capitalize on that new found unity.
"When we won the World Cup, we saw the change but the change was there just for a while and I think that is the problem with politics," said Vieira.
"Things change really quick and people were using the success of the national team to promote themselves and that was a big issue," he said.
"But I think winning the World Cup changed a lot of things for people because it gave people more belief, more confidence in themselves, how they can adapt and stand up for what they think is right, and I think it helped people to fight against racism and I think that was good."
Sixteen years after les bleus' World Cup success racism is still a problem in France and last year the country's most prominent black politician Christiane Taubira was featured on the cover of the far right weekly magazine with the words: "Crafty as a monkey, Taubira gets her banana back."
Antisemitic attitudes are also prevalent.
Former France international Nicolas Anelka was banned for five matches and fined £80,000 ($135,000) in February for making a "quenelle" gesture -- a sign believed to be an inverted Nazi salute -- although the striker denied that it had any antisemitic connotations.
"With what is going on in France, I feel the country is still divided because I think religion and people taking part try to divide people," Vieira said.
"I think we have to accept our differences and the way to accept it is education. I think we have to even promote more education.
"I think we have to talk more about our differences and not be ashamed of it and just accept who we are as a person and try to accept other people's differences as well, and I believe this is part of a lack of education."