Unbridled joy erupts across France

Tens of thousands of people around the Arc de Triomphe celebrating France's 1-0 World Cup semi-final victory over Belgium. Les Bleus now have the opportunity to emulate their 1998 triumph on Sunday.
Tens of thousands of people around the Arc de Triomphe celebrating France's 1-0 World Cup semi-final victory over Belgium. Les Bleus now have the opportunity to emulate their 1998 triumph on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • France reached their third World Cup final on Tuesday, sparking scenes of unconfined joy in Paris as tens of thousands of people poured into the streets.

In scenes reminiscent of France's 1998 World Cup win, delirious crowds surged up the Champs Elysees avenue and surrounded the Arc de Triomphe.

The French national anthem La Marseillaise, chants of "We're in the final", and a cacophony of car horns and firecrackers rang out across the capital.

Motorbikes, bicycles, cars, dustbin lorries - they all came to a standstill to join in the celebrations.

A crowd of 20,000 earlier gathered to watch Didier Deschamps' team beat Belgium 1-0 on a giant screen at Paris' historic Hotel de Ville, or town hall. With viewing space at a premium, fans were spotted perching on trees, on top of vans, on dustbins and bus shelters.

Samuel Umtiti's decisive goal triggered the waving of a sea of tri-colour flags as ecstatic supporters - many in the national team's colours - kissed, hugged and danced.

"Vive la France, Vive la Republique" shouted Alia and Sacha, two Parisian schoolchildren.

Les Bleus are now just one win away from winning the World Cup - 20 years after their manager captained the team to victory on home soil. France also made the 2006 final in Berlin before losing to Italy.

One fan, 17-year-old Lea, was not even born when France enjoyed a heady night at the Stade de France in a 3-0 triumph over Brazil in 1998.

She said: "It's so beautiful what's happened. We are going to experience our own '98 now!"

Up in Pigalle, Paris' red-light district, the neon-lit windmill outside the Moulin Rouge cabaret was shrouded in a haze of smoke bombs and flares.

"It's magnificent," beamed Thierry Perier, 45, who was with his eight-year-old daughter. "We needed this in France, we deserved it. We had the best players and, for the morale of the French, to win the World Cup would be the best present ever."

The Rue de Rivoli, normally choc-a-bloc with Tuesday night traffic, became a temporary pedestrian zone as crowds made their way along it past the Louvre to the Champs Elysees. Bars, cafes and restaurants also enjoyed a bumper evening of revelry.

The World Cup often boosts consumer spending and France's progress "is good for growth", Finance Minister Bruno le Maire told France 2 television. The French economy, the second-biggest in the European zone, has recently shown signs of stalling.

But some of the partying was marred by clashes between riot police and mobs on the iconic avenue.

Live TV images showed bare-chested men hurling plastic crowd control barriers and other missiles at the police, who charged back.

France has been under high security since the November 2015 terrorist attacks. In the southern city of Nice, more than two dozen fans were hurt when the detonation of firecrackers triggered a brief stampede.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'Unbridled joy erupts across France'. Print Edition | Subscribe