France holds collective breath as WCup feats fuel joy and hope
July 11 2018 11:00 PM
France fans celebrate the FIFA World Cup semi-final victory over Belgium on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Tuesday. (Reuters)


Millions of jaded but jubilant French were recovering yesterday after a night of celebration following the team’s 1-0 World Cup semi-final win against Belgium, a victory that has generated a rare but contagious mood of optimism.
For those who returned to work, many had barely slept after the spontaneous explosions of revelry, dancing and car-horn blaring from the streets of Paris to the smallest village squares of a nation heaving to the beat of football chants.
The Champs Elysees and the vast circle around the Arc de Triomphe were packed with an estimated 200,000 fans, who danced, sang and drank late into the night.
The immediate question on most people’s minds yesterday was who will reach the final to face Les Bleus. England and Croatia were scheduled to play in the other semi-final in Moscow later yesterday.
There was no consensus about which team would be a preferable — meaning easier — opponent for France and its hopes of triumphing in a competition it has won just once before, on home soil in 1998.
On social networks, football buffs shared space with more light-hearted commentators, some of whom were more interested in the historical and political ramifications of a final face-off between arch-rivals England and France.
“Winning the final over England would be sublime, but losing to them would be so awful that I’m hoping for Croatia,” said one Twitter fan by the name of Antoine.
Another contributor made fun of France’s rivals on the other side of the channel, saying: “Just spoke to an English friend. He tells me England’s playing Croatia on Wednesday. So I’m like, ‘What a coincidence. We’re playing them on Sunday.’”
French TV channels and radio stations talked about little but football, relegating coverage of weightier issues such as a fractious Nato summit to a few seconds. An estimated 19mn of France’s 67mn population watched the Belgium game, with that number only likely to grow for the final.
Football pundits and celebrities waxed lyrical about the young French side, particularly lightning fast striker Kylian Mbappe, one of the stand-out stars of the tournament. In Paris, graffiti popped up on one wall reading “Liberte, Egalite, Mbappe!”, a play on the national motto of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood).
In the Belgian capital Brussels, yesterday morning commuters had to endure more than the pain of the previous evening’s loss.
Honouring a bet between the cities’ respective metro operators, the Brussels subway train company piped music by late French singer Johnny Hallyday over its sound system.

‘France were lucky,’ Belgian PM tells Macron

The Belgian prime minister told French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday that France had been very fortunate to beat Belgium and reach the World Cup final in Russia.
Welcoming fellow leaders including Macron and US President Donald Trump to a summit of the Nato defence alliance in Brussels, premier Charles Michel said the Western bloc must go on setting aside differences to protect each other.
Then he added: “Yesterday in Russia, Belgium played a great game against France. Belgians are generally not too chauvinist but frankly, Emmanuel, yesterday, the French team was very lucky.
“Like in football, fair play and team spirit are what we need more than ever.”.
Macron attended the semi-final in St. Petersburg along with the Belgian king and saw France win 1-0 to earn a place in Sunday’s final in Moscow.

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