Paris: The welcome was grand, the emotion visceral as France’s victorious World Cup team rolled down Paris’ Champs-Elysees Avenue in an open-top bus on Monday while tens of thousands of people cheered with unrestrained pride and jets streamed the national colours — blue, white, red — overhead. The crowd that waited for hours to greet the soccer team, under a hot sun and amid celebratory smoke bombs that choked the air, got its moment hours after the team returned from Russia to hoist the gold trophy on French soil for the second time in 20 years.
The national team’s 4-2 win over Croatia on Sunday gave France a new set of heroes, many of whom represent the changing face of a diverse, multicultural country with which not all French citizens have yet reckoned.
The red carpet welcome for the World Cup winners continued at the Elysee Palace, where President Emmanuel Macron threw an informal garden party that had 1,000 children and 300 athletes from local soccer clubs as guests.
Many of the invited clubs are based in the poor neighbourhoods French that produced the players who made up France’s youthful, diverse World Cup team, including 19-year-old breakout star Kylian Mbappe.
Members of the club he grew up with in suburban Bondy attended the party.
“Merci!” Macron, the youngest person to become France’s president, told the guests. “This team is beautiful because it was united.”
Addressing the team, Macron offered advice. “Don’t change,” he said, adding, “Never forget where you come from.”
Team captain and goalie Hugo Lloris, brandishing the trophy from soccer’s eminent tournament, and coach Didier Deschamps led the team onto the red carpet at the Elysee courtyard. With Republican Guards standing motionless in full dress uniforms, the squad quickly broke into party mode for the official photos.
The fun continued in the garden with chants led by midfielder Paul Pogba and off-the-cuff songs.
The victory came at a time when many French were in need of good news, and the magic provided a sense that a grand coming together might at least paper over political, economic and social fissures for a while....