‘We fought until the end’: French World Cup fans sing Les Bleus

“Les Bleus made us dream,” President Emmanuel Macron said after France’s dramatic World Cup final loss to Argentina.

As Argentinian celebrations swelled from Lusail Stadium in Qatar to the streets of Buenos Aires following Argentina’s dazzling World Cup win, a sombre mood, in contrast, has swept across France.

Ahead of Sunday evening’s final match, expectant French football fans had crowded bars, gymnasiums, city streets and living rooms across the country in support of Les Bleus.

But after the game that went to extra time and a penalty shootout, French supporters were left downtrodden and dejected as they absorbed the weight of the moment and what could have been.

In Paris, forlorn fans trudged along Champs-Elysees avenue in the chilly night air, where the mood was reflected in the grey winter skies that blanketed the capital city.

“We’re disappointed, especially with a finish on penalties,” Louane, 14, who had travelled to Paris from the central Jura region to watch the game with his parents.

France fans on the Champs-Elysees in Paris during the World Cup final between France and Argentina.
France fans on the Champs-Elysees in Paris during the World Cup final between France and Argentina on December 18, 2022 [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

“But there were plenty of twists in the game and we thought it was in reach,” he told the AFP news agency.

The French side had miraculously clawed their way back into the game after allowing Argentina a 2-0 lead early on. That was thanks to three breathtaking goals from France’s Kylian Mbappe, who almost singlehandedly staged his side’s unthinkable comeback.

The drama of the match had left French fans sitting on the edge of their seats.

“To come back from a two-goal deficit is incredible,” said Romain Balthazar, a 22-year-old engineering student who visited Paris with friends to watch the final. “We came to experience this on the Champs — it’s fabulous.”

Just once has a team ever come back from two goals down in the World Cup final, and that was West Germany’s 3-2 win over Hungary in 1954, which remains the only time a team has overcome such a deficit in the tournament final.

France fans will take solace though in the awe-inspiring performance by Mbappe, who slid past Lionel Messi to earn the well-deserved Golden Boot trophy on Sunday as the World Cup’s top player. He netted eight goals over the course of the 2022 tournament.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who had travelled to Doha for the second time in a week to support Les Bleus, said he, too, was “very sad and disappointed”.

Macron had consoled and addressed the distraught team in the locker room after the game.

“Les Bleus made us dream,” Macron tweeted after the match.

Disturbances were reported in Paris as dejected fans clashed with some of the approximately 14,000 riot police deployed across the country for the final. Minor skirmishes were also reported last week when police fired tear gas in the aftermath of France’s semifinal win over Morocco.

Meanwhile, Argentina supporters in Paris gathered at the country’s embassy, located a short walk from the city’s iconic Arc de Triomphe monument.

“It’s an incredible feeling, with this finale for Messi, because we haven’t won since Maradona,” said 30-year-old Argentinian expat Alejandro Gomez.

In the southern city of Marseille, fans in the historic port district were also left reeling after the match.

“They played incredibly well, and didn’t disappoint, but penalty shots are always like Russian roulette,” said Laurent Bergerot, a 44-year-old engineer.

“It came down to chance but we fought until the end.”

In Bordeaux, Anthony Brebis, wearing a French flag on his shoulders matched by red, white and blue paint on his face, made a harsh assessment of the national side: “We have a young team that didn’t have enough experience to hold out for more than 90 minutes.”

French fans in search of redemption will now have to wait for UEFA Euro 2024 in Germany, the next big tournament in which Les Bleus will compete.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies