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For Joyous French, a Night to Remember

By Anne Swardson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 13, 1998; Page C1

 At least a million people poured onto the Champs-Elysees, which drew 350,000 people after France's semifinal win against Croatia Wednesday. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
PARIS, July 12 — France exploded in joy tonight, as people poured onto the streets in Paris and other cities, waving newly purchased flags and screaming in unambiguous pride and patriotism for the national soccer team that won its first World Cup, beating defending champion Brazil, 3-0. An estimated crowd of 1 million jammed the Champs-Elysees, where a huge image of Zinedine Zidane, the player who scored two goals with his head, was projected on the Arc de Triomphe with the words "Champions of the World."

Love of country usually is a quiet affair here. But in the last few days France, the host nation of this month-long tournament, has swelled with national pride as "Les Bleus" (the Blues), unbeaten in this year's World Cup competition, approached tonight's championship game in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis.

Those who could not find team jerseys or French flags hand-painted their own, in addition to painting their faces, their hair, their beards and occasionally their dogs.

The victory puts France in the ranks of only six other countries (Argentina, Germany, Italy, Brazil, England, Uruguay) to win the championship of the most important sporting competition in the world. No new nation had joined the ranks of World Cup champion since Argentina in 1978. This championship was watched on television by an estimated 2 billion, including half the population of France.

The throngs on what the French bill as the most beautiful avenue in the world were ebullient, but controlled. When the words "FRANCE FRANCE" flashed across the screen atop a bank building, and then the score, the crowd roared. Although there was some broken glass on the street and some minor injuries, no major incidents were reported.

At the stadium, French President Jacques Chirac, who has worn a suit and tie to every game he has attended, did so tonight as well. But he added a blue team scarf to his ensemble. And Michel Platini, president of the French organizing committee and a former soccer star, abandoned his stance of neutrality and wore a French team jersey under his jacket in the VIP stand.

Among the other VIPs in attendance were Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Prince Albert of Monaco and the prime ministers of Hungary, Namibia, Belgium and Ireland.

A few sections in the stadium were full of yellow-clad Brazilian supporters, and their compatriots were scattered throughout. However, the predominant color was blue, with French fans wearing replica jerseys and face paint. Flags and traditional team scarves were everywhere.

At a sidewalk cafe near the Eiffel Tower, Michel Quaterveaux was watching the game on television. "This should be our national day," he shouted, though Bastille Day actually is Tuesday. Quaterveaux and seven friends came from Meauxz, 30 miles away.

The cafe's owners had rented several televisions, and the crowd around them kept getting larger until the last seats, occupied by Quaterveaux and his friends, were almost on the curb. They could barely see the small figures on the screen, but they were among the most enthusiastic participants when everyone in the cafe did the wave.

Their chants, always to the same tune, evolved as the game went on. They began by singing "We will win," then "Get out the champagne." By the end, after a few choruses of "We have won," they ended with "Champions of the world."

"We're here, we're at home," said Laurent Fourneau, who was part of the same group and whose face, like the others, was painted in the tricolors. He gestured at the brightly lit Eiffel Tower nearby. "We're proud of France, we love France."

Will this success change France? "We'll be happier, more emotional," he said. "Normally, it's every man for himself, but now we're all together."

Certainly the crowd on the Champs-Elysees grouped all the faces of today's France. Like the team, the celebrants were of all colors and ethnicities. "We won for the first time!" shouted a dark-skinned girl of perhaps 8 or 9. Her mother, in an orange Muslim head scarf and full-length robe, took her hand and smiled.

Moussa Moussaoui, who arrived here from Algeria only last year, said he thought the success of Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, could help ease the tensions in the low-income ethnic suburbs that ring Paris and other cities.

"It's not pretty out there — it's a no man's land," he said. "Zidane is a god for them. He could make a difference." Just at that moment, the words above Zidane's projected image changed to "Zidane, President."

Hundreds of thousands of people tried to watch the game on a giant screen erected in the square in front of city hall, but the crowd was so thick that even entering the square was difficult. There, before the game, Brazil fan Jose Carlos Harduim was confident.

"Brazil will win," he said. "But France is trying."

The players certainly were, and they were succeeding. Zidane scored twice in the first half, on head-balls set up by corner kicks. Then in the second half, midfielder Emmanuel Petit was able to take advantage when Brazilian goalie Taffarel came out too far in front of the goal.

"We knew they were going to win; we were confident," said Stephane Thomas as he walked toward the Champs-Elysees with his wife, Karine. "That's why we bought this flag this afternoon."

Fans began flooding the Saint-Denis area near the stadium six hours before the 9 p.m. local kickoff.

The ground around the Eiffel Tower became a sea of horn-honking, flag-waving fans. Cars raced by, trailing blue, white and red streamers, or bearing flags.

The subway cars on Line 13 to the stadium were a rainbow of humanity, with Brazil's green-and-yellow and France's red-white-and-blue pressed against the doors and in every crevice of mass transit.

Expressionless bystanders, in their own little Sunday world, seemed uncomfortable with the boarding of the soccer maniacs. But after observing the loud, yet cheerful anthems, many smiled and wished everyone luck. Traffic on the highway ramps outside Stade de France got more tangled by the hour. But on a glorious afternoon with a whipping wind and bright sunshine, the stalled motorists didn't seem to mind.

After a month of hosting a World Cup tournament, its 32 teams, its 64 games, its hundreds of thousands of visitors, the French had learned from the waves of fans who poured through here during this month-long tournament how to support a team.

Staff writer Steven Goff contributed to this report from Saint-Denis.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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