France gives World Cup winners a heroes’ welcome home

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte pose with captain Hugo Lloris, holding the trophy, coach Didier Deschamps and players before a reception to honor the French football team, at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Reuters)
Updated 16 July 2018
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France gives World Cup winners a heroes’ welcome home

  • Commentators have focused on the outpouring of patriotism and sense of national unity created by the multi-ethnic French team
  • Some analysts believe the 40-year-old centrist Macron will benefit from the feelgood factor sweeping France

PARIS: The World Cup-winning French team returned home to a heroes’ welcome on Monday, parading down the Champs-Elysees as hundreds of thousands of cheering fans gave a raucous welcome to the country’s newest idols.
France overcame a determined Croatia to win 4-2 in Sunday’s final in Russia, with teenager Kylian Mbappe applying the coup de grace and cementing his place as a new global superstar at the age of just 19.
Millions of fans in France then celebrated into the night, honking car horns and flying the tricolor flag while the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were lit up in the national colors of blue, white and red.
Crowds began converging early Monday on the Champs-Elysees, the gathering point for all national celebrations, to catch a glimpse of a returning squad which has captured the country’s imagination.
“We’re so proud of this team, they have truly become our players,” said Priscilla Lagneaux, 28, as she waited under a wilting sun on the avenue. “We had to see them.”
As the celebrating players descended on an open-air bus under heavy police guard — some of the 2,000 officers deployed in the capital — nine jets from the Patrouille de France, the air force’s acrobatic unit, did an honorary flyover trailing blue, white and red smoke.
Commentators have focused on the outpouring of patriotism and sense of national unity created by the multi-ethnic French team, many of whose stars including Mbappe and Paul Pogba hail from deprived and often overlooked suburbs of Paris.
Laurent Joffrin, editor of the leftwing Liberation newspaper, said they had lived up to the ideal of “the republic that we love: united and diverse, patriotic and open, national without being nationalist.”
After leaving the Champs-Elysees, the players quickly changed into custom-made blue suits before being welcomed at the Elysee Palace by President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte, who were also decked out in blue for the occasion.
Macron has already promised the Legion of Honour for the victors’ “exceptional services” to the country, an award already given to the legendary team which won France’s first World Cup title in 1998.
The first couple then posed with the team as they sang the Marseillaise national anthem and waved scarves for a joyous group photo, before heading inside for a private meeting.
“Thanks to you all!” Macron told the team after gathering again outside. “This team is beautiful because you are united!“
Despite a voice nearly failing him, Pogba then proved himself a showman off the field as well as on by leading the guests in an impromptu celebratory rap punctuated by “Allez les Bleus!“
“It’s true, we went on the pitch, and we said, We’re going to crush them all!” he said.
Nearly 3,000 guests have been invited to the reception in the Elysee gardens, including around 1,000 youths from local football clubs such as Bondy, the gritty Paris suburb whose towering housing projects produced Mbappe.
“We’re going to say thank you!” said Sacha, one of the young players at the palace. “I don’t regret not going on vacation this summer.”
Afterwards guests will be treated to the beats of DJ Snake, who has worked with pop stars including Lady Gaga and is part of the Pardon My French collective of French DJs.
Macron had already celebrated with the team on Sunday — even doing “dab” dance moves with players in a video that has gone viral — after attending the final in Moscow.
Some analysts believe the 40-year-old centrist will benefit from the feelgood factor sweeping France, with Macron able to show a common touch after months of criticism from his opponents that he is distant and elitist.
Later the team will attend a dinner in their honor at the posh Hotel du Crillon.
In Paris, the metro system has temporarily renamed six of its stations in honor of the key players, with the Victor Hugo stop — named after the famed 19th-century writer — becoming Victor Hugo Lloris after the team’s goalkeeper.
Two stations were rebaptised in tribute to Deschamps, who captained the national side to its first World Cup victory, won on home soil in 1998.
“There are two things that matter — one is that these 23 players are now together for life, whatever happens, and also that from now on they will not be the same again, because they are world champions,” a champagne-soaked Deschamps said Sunday.
Macron will be relieved that joyous and occasionally chaotic celebrations across France on Sunday night passed off without any major incident following a string of terror attacks in France since 2015 that have claimed nearly 250 lives.
There were 292 people arrested nationwide and isolated clashes between police and rowdy crowds in Paris, Lyon and Marseille.
For Croatia, a country of just four million people, the loss was bitter but their fans took solace in the best run in the nation’s history, which featured a stunning win against Argentina and a semifinal victory against England.
“Thank you, heroes! — You gave us everything!” read the Sportske Novosti front page. “’Vatreni’ (the “Fiery Ones” in Croatian), you are the biggest, you are our pride, your names will remain written in gold forever!” the newspaper said.


Prince Harry and Meghan start Aussie tour with baby gifts

Updated 6 min 43 sec ago
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Prince Harry and Meghan start Aussie tour with baby gifts

SYDNEY: A beaming Duke and Duchess of Sussex thrilled thousands of fans outside the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday during their first meeting with the general public since the former Meghan Markle’s newly announced pregnancy.
Prince Harry and Meghan spent longer than the 20 minutes allocated in their schedule to speak to and shake hands with as many well-wishers as possible. Meghan, wearing a beige trench coat over a sleeveless cream dress by Australian designer Karen Gee, accepted cards and flowers from an enthusiastic crowd.
The news of the pregnancy was announced after the couple arrived in Sydney on Monday and 15 hours before their first public appearance. The two are on a 16-day tour of Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand that their Kensington Palace staff said would not be altered despite confirmation that the American former actress is pregnant.
Among those taken by surprise by the announcement were their Sydney hosts, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Lynne Cosgrove. The governor-general, who represents Queen Elizabeth II, Australia’s head of state and Harry’s grandmother, sent staff to hastily buy a toy kangaroo with a joey in its pouch and a tiny pair of Australian sheep skin boots for their pregnant guest.
“Here’s your first gift for the nursery,” the governor-general told the couple during the official welcome at his official residence, Admiralty House.
“Thank you, that’s so sweet,” Meghan said as she received the toy.
The pregnancy has made front-page news across Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran the headline: “A smooth ride to Sydney, but royals reveal bump on the way.” Darwin’s irreverent NT News chose the headline: “Ginger Pregs” — a play on a long-running Australian comic strip about a mischievous red-head boy called “Ginger Meggs.”
Outside the Opera House on Tuesday, Harry lingered longest with war widow Daphne Dunne, 98, whom he hugged as they chatted.
It was the third time that they had met since Harry’s eye caught sight of a Victoria Cross medal on her chest during a Sydney visit in 2015. She explained that her first husband Albert Chowne had been given the highest award in the British honors system after he died in Papua New Guinea in 1945.
This time, Meghan joined Harry in greeting the Dunne, who admires the prince’s work with veterans.
“Oh my goodness, is this Daphne?” Meghan asked.
Dunne later said Meghan told her “she had heard all about me; she’s so beautiful.”
“I wished them well with the baby on the way and said this is what Harry has been waiting for so long,” Dunne added.
Before Megan donned her coat, her tight-fitting dress barely revealed a bump as they were welcomed at the first event of the day at the Sydney Harbor-side mansion where the two are staying.
The main focus of that engagement was to meet Invictus Games representatives from the 18 countries competing in the event that starts Saturday. The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball.
Several of the representatives congratulated the couple on their baby news. Meghan replied: “Thank you so much. We are very excited.”
The couple later traveled by boat to Taronga Park Zoo where they opened a research center and met two 10-month old koalas that had been named after them.
They watched an indigenous dance company rehearse inside the Opera House before meeting the public.
The announcement of the pregnancy confirms weeks of speculation from royal watchers about why Meghan was not joining Harry on his Sydney Harbor Bridge climb set for Friday.
Harry, 34, and Meghan, 37 — along with Prince William and his wife, Kate, the duchess of Cambridge — have stepped to the fore in the last year as the 92-year-old queen slightly reduces her public schedule.