Les Bleus finally get party started

France forwards Antoine Griezmann (far left) and Kylian Mbappe just cannot get enough of the World Cup trophy as they celebrate with their countrymen at the Stade de France in Paris on Sunday.
France forwards Antoine Griezmann (left) and Kylian Mbappe just cannot get enough of the World Cup trophy as they celebrate with their countrymen at the Stade de France in Paris on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud got the party started as world champions France made it a memorable homecoming in front of their adoring fans with a 2-1 win over the Netherlands in Paris.

On their first appearance on home soil since the World Cup, Mbappe put France ahead with another explosive performance from the 19-year-old, who won the Best Young Player award in Russia, before Ryan Babel briefly restored parity in the second half.

But Giroud had the last laugh on Sunday, sweeping in the winner from a Benjamin Mendy cross in the 75th minute for his first goal in 11 games in a France shirt, after the striker went through the entirety of his country's triumphant campaign without scoring.

Although the game had a competitive edge as part of Uefa's new Nations League tournament, it was really just a prelude to "a great party" in front of almost 80,000 supporters, with the Stade de France exploding with joy at Giroud's winner.

"The victory was the most important thing, so we can have a great party," coach Didier Deschamps told French TV station M6, before lauding Giroud's unselfish play, which had led to his goal drought.

"I am really pleased for Olivier. Strikers can have periods like that where they are not as efficient, but he is useful in our build-up play, he scored a lovely goal and on top of that, it gave us the victory."

The France team and their fans saw the occasion against the Dutch as the opportunity to make up for the lack of a memorable public celebration in the immediate aftermath of lifting the World Cup.

The day after beating Croatia 4-2 in the July 15 final, Les Bleus paraded hurriedly down the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris en route to a reception hosted by President Emmanuel Macron.

The rushed nature of the commemoration disappointed the estimated 300,000 fans who took to the streets, and so this time, members of the victorious squad were presented one by one to supporters after the final whistle.

The World Cup trophy was shown off as well, and Deschamps' men undertook a lap of honour, singing with supporters, at the stadium where France first lifted the famous trophy in 1998.

"Now is the time to have a party," midfielder Paul Pogba told M6.

"When we came back to France, it was very short. There was all the security around the bus and we couldn't really celebrate with the public. This time we are at the Stade de France, it's full, it's beautiful."

Deschamps named an unchanged starting line-up from Thursday's 0-0 draw with Germany in Munich, with goalkeeper Alphonse Areola continuing to stand in for injured captain Hugo Lloris.

Both teams were greeted by a big banner which covered the pitch and read "World Champions", before a spine-tingling version of the French national anthem La Marseillaise echoed around the stadium.

Mbappe showed why he has been tipped as a future Ballon d'Or winner, scoring in the 14th minute as he turned in a ball driven across the box by Blaise Matuidi for his eighth international goal this year.

The hosts looked in complete control against a Dutch side rebuilding under Ronald Koeman after failing to qualify for Euro 2016 and the World Cup, but the Dutch equalised against the run of play through Babel from Kenny Tete's cross.

Giroud was, however, not to be denied with his 32nd goal for France, taking him one clear of former great Zinedine Zidane.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline 'Les Bleus finally get party started'. Print Edition | Subscribe