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'We won!': France erupts in joy after World Cup final win

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'We won!': France erupts in joy after World Cup final win
This was the scene in Montpellier after France won the World Cup.
21:31 CEST+02:00
France was the scene of one huge party on Sunday as the country clinched the World Cup, with fans streaming into the streets, honking car horns and flying the tricolore flag at the start of an enormous national celebration.

Cheers rang out throughout the country for each of four goals in the final as "Les Bleus" beat Croatia, transforming the young team into national icons 20 years after the country's first World Cup triumph in 1998.

Even before the final whistle rang out in Moscow, crowds had packed the Champs Elysees in central Paris in a repeat of the scenes of 20 years ago when more than one million people partied there into the early hours.

"1998 was magical! Tonight my son has the same chance to experience the same happiness," Eric Rodenas, 42, told AFP with his 14-year-old son Raphael, who had travelled from France's south coast to the capital.

"We won, we won!" rang out at the end of the match in the giant fanzone erected near the Eiffel Tower in Paris where 90,000 people packed out a park in summer sunshine to watch the game on giant screens.

 

(Fans celebrate in the northern city of Lille. AFP)

'We needed this'

Amid the dancing, drinking and singing of the national anthem, some fans paused to savour a moment of unbridled joy and national unity after a difficult period for the nation.

"We're a country that's under too much pressure. Economic, social pressure, there's too much of it," Thomas Bazzi, a 31-year-old with the colours of the French flag painted on his cheeks, told AFP. 

"We needed this release," he said as he smiled, holding a beer outside a cafe in central Paris.

Despite the country's enviable lifestyle, it has lacked "joie de vivre" for years, as shown in numerous surveys finding its people to be among some of the most pessimistic on the planet.

Much of this is down to decades of high unemployment, mounting public debt and the homegrown terror threat of late, which has fuelled fears about immigration as well as the success of far-right political parties.

Security headache 

The huge crowds across France pose an immediate headache for France's  overworked security forces after more than three years of deadly attacks that have claimed nearly 250 lives, with extremists often targeting crowds enjoying a night out.

France deployed 110,000 police and security forces across the country over the weekend and security forces blocked all traffic around the Champs Elysees area and were patting down people in the area to check for weapons.

 

In the Carillon bar in eastern Paris, which was targeted by Islamic State gunmen during the November 2015 terror attacks, some remembered the bloodshed and saw the victory as a reverse of the country's fortunes. 

"Being world champions is symbolic," Benoit Bardet, a young IT consultant from the area near the St Martin canal, told AFP. "To come here with my friends was a way of remembering and showing that Paris lives on, even after everything that happened."

'Everyone's together'

France's success on the pitch has also led to a newfound feeling of togetherness in a country marked by years of often poisonous debate about immigration and French identity.

The national football squad, most of whom are non-white, has provided a tonic after an impeccable performance both on and off the pitch as national ambassadors.

"Seeing everyone all together in the street, it's mad," Ludovic Guaignant, a technician, told AFP in Paris. "There aren't any more problems, racism -- everyone's together. You only get that with football." 

His thoughts echoed those of star midfielder Paul Pogba, who had celebrated the team's diversity last week, saying: "There are people of many different origins, that's what makes France so beautiful."

Such talk has led to inevitable comparisons with the current team and their victorious 1998 "Black, Blanc, Beur" (Black, White, north African) predecessors led by Zinedine Zidane.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe immediately sent his congratulations, saying the team "were the pride of your country".

President Emmanuel Macron, a keen football supporter, was in the stadium in Moscow with his wife Brigitte, and he will be hoping to bask in the afterglow of the victorious campaign in Russia.

"MERCI," he wrote in a one-word tweet. 

Former president Jacques Chirac enjoyed a surge in popularity following  France's 1998 victory -- something Macron will want to replicate amid a poll ratings slump.

A World Cup win "could indeed make him appear closer to voters. After all,  football is the sport where societal differences are blurred," said Frederic Dabi of the Ifop polling institute.

Winning the World Cup will also reinforce the pro-business message Macron has delivered to international investors since his election in May last year: that "France is back" as a dynamic, exciting place.

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