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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

French celebrate unifying victory but clashes mar joyful mood

People marched down the Champs-Elysees where France displayed its military might a day earlier for Bastille Day

The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the French national colours after France beat Croatia in the World Cup final. AFP
The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the French national colours after France beat Croatia in the World Cup final. AFP

It was a victory for all of France and the home crowd did it justice, pouring into Paris’ Champs-Elysees Avenue by the tens of thousands to celebrate in an explosion of joy.

France’s 4-2 win over Croatia in the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday marked the second time in 20 years that France has won the trophy, and came at a time when the people needed it.

“It represents enormous things,” said Goffrey Hamsik, dressed in a hat resembling a rooster — the French national symbol — and a shirt with the No 10 for Kylian Mpappe, the 19-year-old breakout star who hails from the Paris suburb of Bondy.

“We’ve had lots of problems in France these past years,” he said, recalling deadly terror attacks. “This is good for the morale ... Here, we are all united. We mix. There is no religion, there is nothing, and that’s what feels good.”

People wrapped in flags and dressed in crazy hats, and one man spotted totally nude except for the tricolor, marched down the avenue where France displayed its military might a day earlier for Bastille Day.

Revelers set off smoke bombs in the national colours – blue, white and red – obscuring Napoleon’s triumphal arch. People climbed atop every newspaper kiosk and bus stop in the area to wave flags and lead the crowds below in cheers. The national anthem, the Marseillaise, rang out, cars honked horns and cherry bombs cracks.

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A young man sprayed a fire extinguisher on the crowd on a late hot afternoon.

Hundreds of police in riot gear were discreetly lined up on side streets to monitor revellers.

Tear gas was lobbed at one point on the Champs-Elysees. About 4,000 police watched over the fan zone – packed to its 90,000 capacity – during the match, then moved to the Champs-Elysees and neighbouring streets.

Late into the evening, police fired tear gas and dispersed crowds from the Champs Elysees after clashes with a small group of unruly fans, a small number of whom damaged some businesses and properties in the centre of Paris.

Some threw stones and other projectiles at riot police who responded with tear gas.

French football fans clash with police following celebrations around the Arc de Triomphe. Getty Images
French football fans clash with police following celebrations around the Arc de Triomphe. Getty Images

As night fell, The Eiffel Tower flashed 1998-2018 to mark France’s two World Cup titles.

The Arc de Triomphe was awash in the national colours, lit with the rooster, the faces of the winning team and the words “Proud to be Blue”.

The celebrations were spread across the nation. For all the crazy antics – and some revellers who got out of control – a sense of patriotism and unity was almost visceral.

Antoine Griezmann, the France striker who scored one of the goal’s Sunday, told a news conference two days before the final that pride in country is in short supply.

“We say it so little ... We should be proud to be French,” Griezmann said.

Mahmoud Bourassi was among those taking a longer-term view and he had some sobering thoughts about France’s run to the title and the festivities it has sparked.

Mr Bourassi runs a youth center in Bondy – Mbappe’s home that was among those scarred by riots in 2005 that exposed the fissures of France that have yet to heal – and he knows the teenage star of the tournament.

“All this euphoria and effervescence, it’s positive but it’s emotional and ephemeral,” he said ahead of France’s win. Mr Bourassi said sports is a “catalyst to bring people and nations together.”

But, he added, it must be built on. “What we’re seeing is magic, exceptional. But what are we going to do with it tomorrow?”

That is a question for president Emmanuel Macron, who was in Moscow celebrating with the team on victory night and will receive the squad more formally on Monday at the presidential Elysee Palace.

Revellers celebrated the moment. “We’re happy. It took 20 years ... It’s the pride of the nation. It unites everyone. It federates,” Frederique Pourquet said as she and her friend left the Champs-Elysees.

The win “shows that the French people are consolidated and the work of all France,” said Omar Bzi.

Hajar Maghnaoui, of Asnieres, north of Paris, said “It’s a way to bring the French people together, and also the world.”