July 16, 2018
PARIS (AP) — The members of France’s victorious World Cup team returned home from Russia to triumphant arcs of water heralding their airplane’s arrival and a red carpet welcome Monday, and that was before the formal homage that awaited them in Paris.
Goalie Hugo Lloris, brandishing the golden trophy from soccer’s eminent tournament, and coach Didier Deschamps led the team from the Air France plane to the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Airport personnel and French Sports Minister Laura Flessel, a former champion fencer, were the first to tell them “merci” on behalf of a grateful nation that was sorely in need of a boost.
“Eternal Happiness” read Monday’s headline in French sports daily L’Equipe, summing up the mood of many who hope the euphoria will last for months — even years. The team expected to take a victory lap down the grand Champs-Elysees, the grand Paris avenue where hundreds of thousands thronged after France’s 4-2 victory Sunday over Croatia to capture the trophy.
For a third day in a row, the avenue was transformed into a boulevard of pride and happiness following a Bastille Day parade of French military might Saturday that, in hindsight, was a preview for the elation of France’s World Cup win.
The team’s appearance on the Champs-Elysees will be followed by a reception at the presidential palace. Hundreds of guests, including people from soccer clubs connected to the French players, were invited. A club in the poor suburb where 19-year-old star Kylian Mbappe grew up is among them.
France has been short of reasons to feel proud, and now is the moment. Several Paris Metro stations were temporarily adjusting their names to honor the team and its members, the transport authority tweeted. The Champs-Elysees Clemenceau has become the Deschamps-Elysees Clemenceau to honor national team coach Didier Deschamps.
The Etoile station is, for now, “On a 2 Etoiles” (We have 2 stars), to denote France’s second victory in soccer’s World Cup. The Victor Hugo station is now Victor Hugo Lloris, after France’s standout goalie and team captain.
Celebrations were spread across the nation, and among the still-dazed French players themselves. “We are linked for life now with this Cup,” defender Raphael Varane told BFM-TV on Monday before departing from Moscow.
French President Emmanuel Macron exulted on the field in Moscow and in the locker room, hugging players as they received their medals even as the skies poured rain. Macron clearly hoped the World Cup glow would rub off on him, raising him up in the eyes of a nation where his economic reforms have drawn fierce protests.
It was the players, though, who captured the French imagination. The mostly youthful, diverse team represents a generation with which traditionalists have yet to come to terms. Flessel, the sports minister, told Europe-1 radio that the World Cup victory allows France’s youth — like those in the poor suburbs where many of the players grew up — “to dare to believe in their dreams.”
Joy over the win brightened the Monday morning commute in Paris, where young people in cars sang and shouted. In the eastern Paris neighborhood of Belleville, Vincent Simon said, “Both teams deserved to win. France won, and that’s good for the country. That will do us good for some months.”
The victory came at a time when many French were in need of good news. “It represents enormous things,” said Goffrey Hamsik, dressed in a hat resembling a rooster — the French national symbol — and a shirt with Mbappe’s No. 10 number.
“We’ve had lots of problems in France these past years,” he said at Sunday’s festivities, 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.”
Still, celebrations in France typically end up with a spate of violence by troublemakers, and Sunday was no exception. Broken shop windows, pillage and other destruction lined a section of the Champs-Elysees, the postgame site for revelers. Riot police used water cannon and tear gas to end the violence.
French media reported that authorities detained 90 people for questioning in the Paris region and some 290 around France.
Chris den Hond in Paris contributed.