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Wednesday 19 December 2018

A hero's welcome for world champs

Hundreds of thousands turn out in Paris to cheer on 'Les Bleus'

VIVE LE FRANCE: The open-top team
bus with the French team goes down
the Champs Elysee as the French
public turn out in force to celebrate
their World Cup success Photo: AFP/Getty
VIVE LE FRANCE: The open-top team bus with the French team goes down the Champs Elysee as the French public turn out in force to celebrate their World Cup success Photo: AFP/Getty

Hundreds of thousands of ecstatic French fans celebrated the return of their World Cup winning football team yesterday in Paris, 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.

Gardens

"Thank you for having made us proud," Macron told the players in the presidential palace's gardens. "Never forget where you come from: all the clubs across France that trained you."

They were given a raucous reception at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport before their parade through the capital city.

The team will also receive their country's highest accolade - the Legion d'Honneur.

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 has 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.

When France won its first World Cup 20 years ago, with Zinedine Zidane its talisman and playmaker, the team was referred to as "Black-Blanc-Beur" (Black-White-Arab), a positive reference to its diverse ethnic make-up. But some were keen to put that phrase to one side, seeing in it a sense of separateness, even if it was meant positively.

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.

Switched

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

More than 300,000 Croats in red and white chequered shirts and scarves poured onto the streets of the capital Zagreb to welcome home their team.

Croatia achieved its best-ever World Cup result, surpassing the third place won 20 years ago at the World Cup in France. "They lost the final, but won the world," was a headline in the Jutarnji List daily.

The team's success in Russia brought evident joy to the small Balkan nation of four million people, and the celebration was broadcast live on national television.

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