France en fete as fans salute heroics of Les Bleus

Luke Baker

Hundreds of thousands of ecstatic French fans celebrated the return of their World Cup winning football team yesterday, jumping and chanting “We are the champions” as their bus paraded down the Champs Elysees before a special presidential reception.

Les Bleus, a dynamic, young team that won an open, fast-paced final 4-2 with Croatia in Moscow, appeared at the Elysee Palace, where they burst into a spontaneous rendition of the La Marseillaise national anthem with president Emmanuel Macron and his wife.

“Thank you for having made us proud,” Macron told the players. “Never forget where you come from: All the clubs across France that trained you.”

French media spent the day lauding the team’s accomplishments.

More than 300,000 people filled the Champs Elysees, the area around the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde on Sunday night, partying into the early hours, singing the Marseillaise, setting off firecrackers and blaring horns until the sun rose.

We had so much fun last night, the city was full of joy, so much celebration,” a woman dressed in red, white and blue who had made her way out to Charles de Gaulle airport told BFM TV.

“All we want is a wave from the players.”

Newspapers hailed a second World Cup for France, after their first victory on home soil in 1998.

“History Made” declared sports daily L’Equipe.

Photos of superstars Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, and Paul Pogba, as well as shots of the team holding aloft and kissing the trophy in the pouring rain, dominated coverage.

The victory has helped foster a sense of national unity, with commentators playing up the fact the squad, the second-youngest in the competition, includes many with central and north African heritage, even if all but two were born in France.

France have suffered years of tension and self-examination since a series of attacks by Islamist gunmen during 2015 that left more than 140 dead, including 89 killed in the Bataclan theatre in Paris.

In some small way, the World Cup has helped lift the nation as it remains wary of the threat.

For Macron, who became president last year at the age of 39, leading his political movement to victory against the odds, the success is also likely to have positive repercussions after a slump in the polls amid a host of economic reforms.

The Paris metro system got into the celebratory mood, announcing the names of a number of stations were being briefly changed to honour the players and coach, Didier Deschamps.

Notre-Dame des Champs station was relabelled “Notre Didier Deschamps”, and Victor Hugo was switched to “Victor Hugo Lloris” after the captain and goalkeeper.

Yesterday morning, the after-effects of Sunday night’s frenetic revelry were still visible.

A number of smashed windows, an overturned car, and graffiti scrawled here and there, including the phrase “Liberte, Egalite, Mbappe”, a reference to the national motto “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”.

On Twitter, Brazilian legend Pele paid tribute to the exploits of Mbappe, France’s 19-year-old superstar, saying that if the teenager kept equalling his goal-scoring records, Pele might have to strap his boots back on.

Mbappe replied to the tweet in English saying “The king will always remain the king”, quickly gaining 15,000 retweets.

It wasn’t just the capital that has been consumed by football fever.

From Nice and Marseille in the south to Lille in the north, Nantes in the west and scores of towns and cities in between, TV stations were full of images of red, white and blue clad fans singing and dancing in France’s streets and squares.

One of France’s unsung heroes was Olivier Giroud and the Chelsea striker enjoyed silencing his critics by helping France to World Cup glory.

The 31-year-old again failed to score as he ended the tournament goalless, leading to criticism Giroud quietened by lifting the World Cup.

Not bad, it’s a great feeling — I mean, ‘it’s coming home!’ I had to say that,” Giroud said with a smile to a group of English reporters.

“Honestly it’s a dream come true, a childhood dream. I am very proud for all the people who supported us, and myself.

“It has been sometimes difficult you know but it is a privilege for me to be part of this team.

“We have been very solid, very strong all the way, until the end. And I think it’s well deserved.”

Asked to explain what he meant by difficult moments, the striker — proudly wearing his winners’ medal — said: “All of my career I have been, how can I say… I have been through certain difficulties and I have always tried to make it.

“It motivates me to get better and better and go through these difficulties and it is what happens in life when you are really motivated, determined, committed, it is never easy.

“Football is very hard and people see only the nice part of the job.

But we work very hard for this achievement and I am very proud to say I am a World Cup champion.

France boss Deschamps defended Giroud in the build-up to the final, pointing to his diligent work and support play.

That work has been important over the year for club and country, but the striker has come in for flak in his homeland as well as the Premier League.

“No, no, no (I don’t feel more respected in France) because I have been criticised a little but in France as well,” the ex-Arsenal striker said.

“For example, I didn’t score in the World Cup. I receive a lot of messages from people who know football well, lots of French supporters.

“They see the work I do for the team and a lot of people wanted me to score in the final.

“I said ‘yes I hope so but even if I don’t score and we are world champions it will be the best thing that has happened in my life’ so I don’t know if I have had a chance again. I tried to work for the team and I know what I can bring to the team.

It’s the same for my team-mates. It is not one or two players or 11 players, it is 23 and that was the strength of the French team this year.

Giroud is glad this French team managed to show everybody what they can do, although he said trying to replicate the “amazing generation” of 1998 did not add extra pressure.

Like then, the triumph was greeted with wild celebrations that is his focus rather than life under new Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri.

“I need some holidays and after that I will be at Chelsea,” he added.

Like France, Giroud deserves time to celebrate.


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