x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Holiday wish comes true for Les Bleus fan

A lot of people wish for time off to watch the World Cup Finals and Fabrice Vriens is one of the lucky ones - he will be on a three-week holiday in his home city of Paris when the knock-out stages of the tournament are being played.

A lot of people wish for time off to watch the World Cup Finals and Fabrice Vriens is one of the lucky ones - he will be on a three-week holiday in his home city of Paris when the knock-out stages of the tournament are being played. "The first match for me is June 25," he says. "I am sure France will still be in it, and I like to watch the World Cup with all my friends and my colleagues. When the French team play, everybody watches the game."

Although he plans to be at home, it is certain that there will be plenty of people cheering on the French in the UAE this summer as an estimated 10,000 French men and women live in the UAE. Mr Vriens, 25, who arrived in the UAE six months ago to be a supervisor at Carrefour, hopes France can enjoy a repeat of the glory of 1998, when the country hosted the tournament and went on to win it. "I was 12 years old and [Zinedine] Zidane scored two goals," he recalls. "That was one big event for my life."

Florian Dournes, 27, also remembers vividly wishing he was in Paris in 1998. Although he is a Parisian, he was on a family cycling and camping trip, and had to watch the wild celebrations on the Champs Elysees on television at a campsite. "The TV zoomed in on the Champs Elysées and you could see people everywhere," he recalls. "It zoomed out and it was still crowded." France lost on penalties to Italy in the final match of the World Cup in 2006, but Mr Dournes is worried that the team may fail to advance from the group stages this year, as they did in 2002 in South Korea and Japan.

"I am afraid it might be like 2002, to be honest," says Mr Dournes, a manager with twofour54. "I don't know that we have an experienced team, and South Africa is doing quite well. The Uruguay and Mexico teams are always going to be strong. But if we go through and our confidence grows during three, four matches, maybe we can go on." French fans in the UAE were at risk of having no team to support late last year, as their team had to win a two-legged play-off against the Republic of Ireland to qualify.

The French striker Thierry Henry used a hand to control the ball in Ireland's penalty area before setting up the goal that got France through to South Africa. The Football Association of Ireland called for the match to be replayed, but, Mr Dournes says, although he was not happy that France advanced the way they did, "referees miss calls all the time". "I wasn't proud of having qualified this way," he says. "But it is not the first time something dodgy has happened in a football match. We were the lucky ones on that time."

@Email:mchung@thenational.ae