Tens of thousands of supporters wrapped in red, white and blue flags and singing the French national anthem have poured on to the Champs-Élysées in Paris to celebrate France’s World Cup victory over Croatia, cheering that the nation was now firmly a football superpower.
As the final whistle blew, shouts rang out and vast crowds that had gathered outside local bars began sprinting on to the 1.2 mile (2km) avenue in the centre of Paris.
Riot police stood guard as supporters screamed and sang and let off firecrackers.
The avenue and a large area around it had been closed to traffic after the Paris police chief had warned of a “real terrorist threat” for the public gathering that was expected to last all night and exceed one million people. But even before the match finished, quad bikes and mopeds waving large French flags had attempted to accelerate towards the Arc de Triomphe.
“I’m massively happy!” shouted Abou Aboubacar, 25, who had travelled across Paris in a French shirt to celebrate near the Arc de Triomphe.
“So proud with all this team has achieved,” said Damien Barrault, 27, who , like many, had made the journey from the Paris suburbs to experience a “historic” night. He was seven the last time that France won the World Cupin 1998 and still remembers the party.
About 90,000 people had squeezed into a fan zone under the Eiffel tower to watch the match. From half-time, buses were stopped from circulating in Paris and some of its suburbs “for security reasons” after many young people had climbed on to the roofs of the vehicles to celebrate after France’s semi-final win last week.
Some supporters on the Champs-Élysées had tears in their eyes with what they called “total love” for the young, diverse French squad that had created what commentators have called a new form of peaceful and multicultural French patriotism that has acted as a balm in a society still shaken by years of terrorist attacks.
At about 11pm, riot police briefly fired teargas at about 30 men throwing stones at shop windows and at police on the northern part of the Champs-Élysées. The Publicis Drugstore shop on the Champs-Élysées suffered damage. Police also fired water-cannon to contain the skirmishes.
Before the match, the French actor Omar Sy had described the team as “happiness creators”, lauding the fact that French flags were on display in every corner of the country, “which aren’t hostile or nationalist flags – just the flag taking back its real colours”.
In an appeal to the team, he said: “Thank you for what you’ve brought to France.”
Even before the result, the Journal du Dimanche released a poll saying 51% of French people thought the football team had already boosted national morale. The economy minister had suggested a victory would also boost economic growth.
France is known for placing more political emphasis on football fixtures than its neighbours. In 1998 when France last won the World Cup, the ethnically diverse team was held up as the solution to France’s race and discrimination issues.
But it is now seen as political folly to have expected Zinedine Zidane’s 1998 side, dubbed “black, blanc, beur” (black, white, Arab), to fix France’s ills simply by winning a match. Soon after, the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had complained of too many black people in the team, made it to the final round of the 2002 French presidential election.
This time, the team are rightly being celebrated as a welcome reflection of multicultural France and all its talent – particularly in the banlieue outside Paris and other large cities. But it is accepted that it is the politicians’ jobs to fix society’s ills, not sportsmen.
Emmanuel Macron, the centrist French president, who watched the final in Moscow before a meeting with Vladimir Putin, is expected to hail the victory as part of his pro-business mantra that “France is back”.
But his government spokesman has warned that it would be wrong to attempt to score political points on the back of football.