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'We Are United': France's World Cup Win Brings Together a Nation ...

July 16,2018 02:12

From the Champs Élysées to the low-income Paris suburbs that many of the French team's stars call home, the country rallied behind “Les Bleus” for the big ...and more »



Witness in 360 video as fans in Paris celebrate the French team’s victory in the World Cup final.Published OnJuly 15, 2018CreditImage by Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
July 15, 2018

BONDY, France — The cheers could be heard all the way from Calais to Marseille when the final second ticked past and France was the indisputable victor of the 2018 men’s soccer World Cup final on Sunday.
Cars honked, noisemakers went off and smoke bombs sent blue, red and white streams into the air. French flags appeared at windows, thrown over people’s shoulders and flying out of car windows, against the backdrop of an enormous one rippling from the Arc de Triomphe. People jumped onto car roofs, and crowds filled the Champs-Élysées.
But it was in low-income suburbs outside Paris with names like Bondy, Suresnes and Lagny-sur-Marne, places that many of the French team’s star players call home, that the elation seemed to be about more than winning the game.
“Once in a while, we are united, we are one country, one people,” said Linda Bourja, 41, who postponed her summer vacation in Brittany to watch the final in Bondy, a predominantly immigrant suburb outside Paris where the 19-year-old soccer superstar Kylian Mbappé grew up.

“That doesn’t happen too often, true — it should happen more, true,” she added. “But today is a day for all of us, for Mbappé, for Bondy, for France, wherever we’re from.”
Women in hijabs cheered alongside a priest; families with children in their arms and teenagers with the red, white and blue of the French flag painted on their cheeks jumped up and down. People broke into “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem; some hugged one another; and others climbed onto rooftops, waving flags.
On the Champs-Élysées, young men clambered onto bus stop shelters and kiosks as police officers in riot gear kept a watchful eye at intersections. Television crews trying to conduct an interview were mobbed by joyous fans who crowded into the shot. Fans walking from Place de la Concorde toward the Arc de Triomphe chanted, “We are the champions.”
Hours after the match ended, the crowds were still shoulder to shoulder, cheering and re-energized by the projection of each player’s name, face and hometown onto the Arc de Triomphe.

A picture circulating on Twitter showed France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, who attended the game in Russia, in a moment of rare abandon, leaping out of his seat and thrusting his fist into the air.

Image
President Emmanuel Macron cheered as President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of Croatia, right, talked with her country’s coach, Zlatko Dalic. Also pictured are the FIFA president Gianni Infantino, second from left, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, center, whose country hosted the tournament.CreditDylan Martinez/Reuters

It was a far cry from the mood on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, which lost the match to the French, 4-2. Although spirits had been high all week in anticipation of the game, hopes faded with a Mbappé goal, France’s fourth, in the 65th minute.
The rollicking celebration faded into a quieter reflection. There were tears and some sadness, but still a great sense of pride. They had proven doubters wrong. They had gone further than anyone had expected. Much like the small nation itself, they had endured.
“All of Croatia has been so happy for these four days,” said Esma Konjhodzic, 63, who lives in the old city of Dubrovnik. “I think we can still celebrate for a few more days second place.”
In Zagreb, the capital, a crowd of nearly 50,000 filled one of the main squares. Despite the team’s defeat, it was a day to be proud for the Croats — including some who live as far away as Australia and had returned for the game.
“We didn’t give up,” said Dinko Regula, a former professional water polo player, watching the game in Zagreb’s main square. “This is the message for the politicians,” he said, as a procession of cars blared their horns in celebration behind him. “Look at this. Look what we can do. Together we could move mountains.”

In France, there was near delirium.
A crowd almost 100,000 strong in front of the Eiffel Tower looked from a distance like a vast patchwork quilt on the move as it flowed toward the Champs-Élysées, where it was so crowded that it was hard to walk.
As much as the game brought together French people of different ethnicities and races, it was also a match for the younger generation.
“Everyone would tell us about ’98,” said Mathys Marquis, 14, referring to France’s last World Cup final win two decades ago. “Now it’s our generation.”
Wearing blue, white and red shades, with a French flag tied around his neck, he had come with some family members to celebrate in what he called a “joyous” but “chaotic” atmosphere.
On the pitch, this was not just any game, or indeed any final, for France. It was a chance to redeem the nation’s losses to Portugal in the 2016 European Championship final and to Italy in the 2006 World Cup final. Both had left French soccer fans, and many who just wanted France to have a win on the world stage, feeling that the team couldn’t quite go all the way.

French supporters at the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Sunday.CreditGuillaume Horcajuelo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Spectators flocked to bars and cafes, as well as to the 230 “fan zones” across France, some with more than a half-dozen giant screens showing the game. The one on the Champ de Mars, at the base of the Eiffel Tower, accommodates 90,000 people.

Set up in small towns as well as in the larger cities of Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, the zones were a way for almost anyone to have a free seat to view the game, even those who could never afford to attend one in person.
With so many in the streets and excitement at a fever pitch, some urban bus lines halted service to stop people from trying to ride on the bus roofs, and many taxis stayed home for the same reason. In Paris, the police used tear gas to disperse overflow crowds near the fan zones.
France had put almost its entire security forces on duty, said Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, including 12,000 on the streets of Paris and around 110,000 deployed nationwide.
In Marseille, fans had gathered on the Vieux-Port, the Mediterranean city’s natural harbor, and some jumped into the water when France won.
Further inland, in Aix-en-Provence, the usually tranquil Cours Mirabeau was packed with supporters. In Lyon, fans flooded the central Place Bellecour, even as a rainstorm threatened to dampen the city. And with vacation season in full swing, travelers at campsites and rental homes on the French Riviera crowded around televisions to watch the game.
Aussan Benaissa, 40, who watched the match in Paris with his 8-year-old son, said he felt a special pride in the star turns by the young players from the suburbs. It was a moment to be proud of being an immigrant — his father was from Algeria — instead of feeling like an outsider.
“These are young men whose parents were from northern Africa,” Mr. Benaissa said. “We feel more French with them.”

In Bondy, even before the final whistle blew, Wael Benzoura, 8, anticipated the joy: He started dancing on his mother’s shoulders. She had painted the number 10 and the name Mbappé on his back in honor of her son’s favorite player.
“We are champions,” said Wael’s mother, Fatima Benzoura, 29, smiling. “I just can’t believe what’s happening.”
“What a message to the world,” Ms. Benzoura added. “Look at what Kylian has done. Look at what the French have just accomplished.”

Follow Alissa J. Rubin, Elian Peltier and Aurelien Breeden on Twitter: @Alissanyt, @ElianPeltier and @aurelienbrd.
Elian Peltier reported from Bondy, and Alissa J. Rubin and Aurelien Breeden from Paris. Marc Santora contributed reporting from Dubrovnik, Croatia; James Piotr Montague from Zagreb, Croatia; and Tanguy Garrel-Jaffrelot from Paris.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page D5 of the New York edition with the headline: A Victory Transcends Cultural Differences: ‘We Are United’. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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