Millions take to the streets to celebrate France's World Cup win
Amid the revelry, small minority clash with police and loot stores
Celebrations further marred by two reported fatalities
As the heavens opened in Russia and torrential rain lashed down upon the triumphant French team, millions took to the streets of Paris in celebration.
Twenty years on from exploits of the “Rainbow team,” whose victory on home soil united a nation, Les Bleus had once again won the World Cup.
Fifteen members of France’s 23-man squad are of African descent, prompting goalscorer Antoine Griezmann to say: “That’s the France we love. Different origins but we are all united.”
Some 100,000 gathered at the foot of the Eiffel Tower to take in the action on big screens on Sunday. Once victory had been confirmed — courtesy of a 4-2 win against Croatia — a party atmosphere took hold and went on long into the night.
“MERCI,” tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron, having leapt to his feet in the Luzhniki Stadium executive box to punch the air with delight.
Macron subsequently “dabbed” with French full-back Benjamin Mendy in the changing room.
A new generation of heroes had been born and, as if to prove it, their images were beamed 50 meters high on the Arc De Triomphe.
Paris metro operator RATP has temporarily renamed six stations in recognition of the team’s achievements.
“Champs-Elysées - Clémenceau” is now the “Deschamps - Elysées Clemenceau,” honoring the team’s manager Didier Deschamps, who captained the side to glory back in 1998, while “Victor Hugo” is now the “Victory Hugo Lloris” in a nod to the team’s goalkeeper.
“The day of glory has come,” splashed the oldest national daily newspaper in France, Le Figaro.
French daily sport newspaper L’Equipe branded it “An Eternal Happiness.” “Encore!” said Liberation, alongside a picture of the team holding the trophy.
Such moments captivate those not normally swayed by the power of sport. Even Beyonce and Jay-Z got in on the act, performing at the Stade de France wearing French shirts complete with two stars above the crest.
Celebrations turn violent
But as the night wore on, the scenes of revelry were marred by two confirmed fatalities and the behavior of a small minority.
In the south eastern town of Annecy, a man in his fifties killed himself diving into a shallow canal following the win, local police confirmed, while a 30-year-old motorist died having crashed into a tree in the western village of Saint-Félix.
“Despite numerous efforts, the victim died,” posted the Oise Fire Department. “Today, we call on pedestrians, motorists and cyclists to be very careful. The party must not end in tears.”
In the capital, fireworks, flares and smoke bombs were thrown indiscriminately along the Champs Elysees, as fans refused to disperse and clashed with the advancing police.
Windows were smashed and shops were looted, with similar scenes of unrest occurring in the cities of Lyon and Marseille.
Some 30 individuals broke into the luxury store Drugstore Publicis on Champs Elysees in scenes reminiscent of the 2006 World Cup final, when the shop was also damaged.
“Lots of merchandise was stolen and damaged,” Drugstore Publicis deputy CEO Virginie Levy told CNN. “They stole alcohol, including champagne, but also lots of jewelery.
“No one was injured, that is the important thing, but we are shocked. This is obviously not in the spirit of the world cup. Last night, tens of people ruined the party for everyone. It is not patriotic.”
In response riot police first fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, and later used water cannons in a bid to evacuate the streets.
All in all, 292 people were placed into custody in France last night, including 90 people in Paris, the Interior Ministry told CNN.
“There were no major incidents,” a spokesperson said. “There were however some upsets in big cities, with shops and terraces damaged.”
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There had been 10,000 police officers and gendarmes mobilized in the capital for the match — 45 were injured but none were “seriously” hurt.
On Monday, Macron welcomed the team back to Paris and the players made a bus parade up the Champs-Elysees avenue, where they were honored by hundreds of thousands of people.
The players and coach will receive their country’s highest accolade, the Légion d’Honneur.
Over in Croatia, the reception was no less rapturous for the beaten finalists.
The trophy had eluded them, but there will still plenty to celebrate — not least being the smallest nation to reach the final since Uruguay in 1930.
“Not a lot of people had high expectations for this World Cup, some weren’t even sure we’d get through the group stages because the group was not easy,” Croatian fan Anita Sambol told CNN Sport. “It’s been really crazy, crazy, crazy here during the World Cup!”
“Congratulations to the France team for this great victory! We are also very proud of our heroes who made us dream,” tweeted Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.