France’s victorious World Cup team returned home from Russia to a red carpet welcome ahead of a victory parade in Paris last night.
Goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris, brandishing the golden trophy, 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 sorely in need of a boost.
“Eternal Happiness” read yesterday’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 was 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 on Sunday night over Croatia to capture the trophy for the second time.
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 on 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 clubs connected to the French players, were invited. A club in the poor suburb where 19-year-old star player Kylian Mbappe grew up is among them.
Several Paris Metro stations were temporarily adjusting their names to honour the team and its members, the transport authority tweeted. The Champs-Elysees Clemenceau has become the Deschamps-Elysees Clemenceau to honour Deschamps.
The Etoile station is, for now, “On a 2 Etoiles” (We have 2 stars), to denote France’s second World Cup, 20 years after Zinedine Zidane and Deschamps himself led Les Bleus to a 3-0 win over Brazil on home soil.
The Victor Hugo station is now Victor Hugo Lloris, after France’s goalkeeper 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 yesterday before departing from Moscow.
French president Emmanuel Macron exulted in the presidential box in Moscow and on the pitch after the game, hugging players as they received their medals even as the heavens opened and heavy rain fell on the pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Mr Macron clearly hoped the World Cup glow would give him a boost in 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.
Despite the general euphoria, celebrations in France can often end up with a spate of violence by troublemakers, and Sunday was no exception.
Broken shop windows, looting and other destruction affected a section of the Champs-Elysees, the postgame site for revellers. Riot police used water cannon and tear gas to end the violence.