The welcome was grand, the emotion visceral as France’s victorious World Cup team rolled down Paris’ Champs-Elysees Avenue in an open-top bus Monday while tens of thousands of people cheered with unrestrained pride and jets streamed the national colors — blue, white, red — overhead.
The crowd that waited for hours to greet the soccer team, under a hot sun and amid celebratory smoke bombs that choked the air, got its moment hours after the team returned from Russia to hoist the gold trophy on French soil for the second time in 20 years.
The national team’s 4-2 win over Croatia on Sunday gave France a new set of heroes, many of whom represent the changing face of a diverse, multicultural country with which not all French citizens have yet reckoned.
The red carpet welcome for the World Cup winners continued at the Elysee Palace, where President Emmanuel Macron threw an informal garden party that had 1,000 children and 300 athletes from local soccer clubs as guests.
Many of the invited clubs are based in the poor neighborhoods French that produced the players who made up France’s youthful, diverse World Cup team, including 19-year-old breakout star Kylian Mbappe. Members of the club he grew up with in suburban Bondy attended the party.
“Merci!” Macron, the youngest person to become France’s president, told the guests. “This team is beautiful because it was united.”
Addressing the team, Macron offered advice.
“Don’t change,” he said, adding, “Never forget where you come from.”
Team captain and goalie Hugo Lloris, brandishing the trophy from soccer’s eminent tournament, and coach Didier Deschamps led the team onto the red carpet at the Elysee courtyard. With Republican Guards standing motionless in full dress uniforms, the squad quickly broke into party mode for the official photos.
The fun continued in the garden with chants led by midfielder Paul Pogba and off-the-cuff songs.
The victory came at a time when many French were in need of good news, and the magic provided a sense that a grand coming together might at least paper over political, economic and social fissures for a while.
“Eternal Happiness” read Monday’s headline in French sports daily L’Equipe, summing up the mood of many who hoped the euphoria would last.
Before the reception, the Champs-Elysees became the epicenter of national pride for the third day in a row, following the post-World Cup celebrations that brought hundreds of thousands to the fame avenue Sunday and a Bastille Day parade of French military might Saturday.
The team appeared elated, too, during its victory lap on the bus Monday. Players threw scarves into the crowd and recorded the action.
Several Paris Metro stations were temporarily adjusting their names to honor the team and its members, the transport authority tweeted. The Champs-Elysees Clemenceau has become the Deschamps-Elysees Clemenceau to honor coach Didier Deschamps.
The Etoile station is, for now, “On a 2 Etoiles” (We have 2 stars), to denote France’s second World Cup victory. The Victor Hugo station is now Victor Hugo Lloris, after France’s standout goalie and team captain.
“We are linked for life now with this Cup,” defender Raphael Varane told BFM-TV on Monday before departing from Moscow, evoking the theme of unity that French partiers have consistently evoked.
Meanwhile, in an outburst of national pride and joy, Croatia rolled out a red carpet and staged a euphoric heroes’ welcome for the national team on Monday despite its loss to France in the World Cup final.
Hundreds of thousands of people wearing national red-and-white checkered colors and waving Croatian flags poured into the streets in the capital Zagreb to greet the team. Observers described the homecoming event as the biggest ever in Croatia.
The joyful, singing crowd crammed the central squares and the route where the players passed in an open bus, greeting fans and signing autographs.
Police said more than 250,000 people came out in central Zagreb and many more along the route. The players’ bus traveled for hours, often stopping when it was blocked by the crowds.
“Thank you Croatia, thank you Zagreb!” captain Luka Modric, who won the Golden Ball after being voted the best player of the World Cup, told the crowd after the team finally arrived at the central square in the evening.
Midfielder Ivan Rakitic added, “There are no words to describe how we feel now!”
The players lined up to sing the national anthem with the packed square thundering in joy. Right-wing nationalist singer Marko Perkovic Thompson joined in toward the end, singing a couple of songs.
Thousands of fans, many coming from other parts of the country, began arriving in the center in the early morning and emergency medical services said they aided hundreds of fans who collapsed from exhaustion. City authorities brought in water tanks to the city center.
Fans honking car horns, waving and shouting “Bravo! Bravo!” welcomed the bus as it slowly left the airport. The inscription at the front read: “Fiery heart, the pride of Croatia!” in reference to the name “The Fiery” as the team is dubbed at home.
As the bus went by, fans followed on bicycles or on foot, waving. Large players’ photos were displayed along the way amid a cacophony of noise and cheers.
The first Croatia team to reach the World Cup final showed off its silver medals and embraced the atmosphere in Zagreb. Rakitic posted a photo on Instagram with controversial singer Thompson, who climbed the bus at some point, saying: “The king is here! One and only! Go Croatia!”
Earlier, Croatian air force jets escorted the plane carrying the team from Russia as it entered the country’s air space and flew over Zagreb.
“Champions! Champions!” roared the crowds as the players came out of the plane to a red carpet on the tarmac at Zagreb airport.
The country of four million people has been gripped in euphoria since its team beat England to reach the World Cup final, where Croatia lost to France 4-2 on Sunday.
The success has been described as the biggest in Croatia’s sporting history, boosting national pride and sense of unity in the country that fought a war to become independent from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.