PARIS (AFP) – 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.
After overcoming a determined Croatia to win 4-2 in Sunday’s final in Russia, the team came back to euphoric crowds in Paris hoping to catch a glimpse of the players that have captured the nation’s imagination.
The footballers did not disappoint, passing the golden World Cup trophy from player to player as they jumped and danced on an open-air bus with “World Champions” emblazoned on its side.
“Wow, it was completely crazy! They are too beautiful, France is beautiful!” said Julia Cohen, 28, after seeing players pass by on the Champs-Elysees, the gathering point for all national celebrations.
The parade was under heavy police guard, with 2,000 officers deployed in the capital to ensure the safety of the estimated 300,000 people who turned up.
Above the partying crowds, nine jets from the Patrouille de France, the air force’s acrobatic unit, did an honorary flyover trailing blue, white and red smoke.
After leaving the Champs-Elysees, the players 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 given to the legendary team that 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!”
Midfielder Paul Pogb then proved himself a showman off the pitch 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 were received in the Elysee gardens, including around 1,000 youths from local football clubs such as Bondy, the gritty Paris suburb whose towering housing blocks produced rising star forward Kylian Mbappe.
Some of the children even got to touch the famed trophy, which captain Hugo Lloris handed around.
Mbappe, who applied the coup de grace in the final to cement his place as a new superstar at just 19, said he achieved what he had set out to do – win the World Cup.
“We are proud to make the French happy,” he told French channel TF1.
Striker Antoine Griezmann said: “Frankly, personally, it’s not real yet. This cup weighs a lot.”
“We are trying to give a good image for France, for French players. I hope that lots of young people will have seen this match and do the same,” he added.
Now, “the players are on holiday,” Philippe Tournon, head of press for the team, told AFP.
Macron had already celebrated with the team on Sunday – even doing “dab” dance moves in a video that has gone viral.