By ELAINE GANLEY
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
PARIS -- The welcome was grand, the emotion visceral as France's victorious World Cup team rolled down Paris's Champs-Élysées 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 Élysée 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 that produced the players who made up France's youthful, diverse World Cup team, including 19-year-old breakout star Kylian Mbappé. 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 manager Didier Deschamps led the team onto the red carpet at the Élysée 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.
"Eternal Happiness" read Monday's headline in French sports daily L'Equipe, summing up the mood of many who hoped the euphoria would last.
Before the reception, the Champs-Élysées became the epicentre of national pride for the third day in a row, following the post-World Cup celebrations that brought hundreds of thousands to the famed avenue on Sunday and a Bastille Day parade on Saturday. The team appeared elated, too, during its victory lap on the bus on Monday. Players threw scarves into the crowd and recorded the action.
Several Paris Metro stations were temporarily adjusting their names to honour the team and its members, the transport authority tweeted. The Champs-ÉlyséesClemenceau has become the Deschamps-Élysées-Clemenceau to honour the team's manager.
The Charles de Gaulle-Étoile station is, for now, "On a 2 Étoiles" (We have 2 stars), to denote France's second World Cup victory. The Victor Hugo station is now Victor Hugo Lloris, after France's standout goalie and team captain.
"We are linked for life now with this Cup," defender Raphaël Varane told BFM-TV on Monday before departing from Moscow, evoking the theme of unity that French partiers have consistently evoked.
Macron exulted on the field in Moscow and in the locker room, hugging players as they received their medals even as the skies poured rain. The President clearly hoped the World Cup glow would rub off on him, raising him up in the eyes of a country where his economic reforms have drawn fierce protests and labour strikes.
He meets on Tuesday with business representatives with an eye on mobilizing them in needy neighbourhoods of France.
It was the players, though, who captured the French imagination.
Fans celebrate as France's national soccer team parades down the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Monday. The team won the World Cup on Sunday with a 4-2 win over Croatia.
GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT /AFP/GETTY IMAGES