It has taken a little while, but France has been officially gripped by FIFA World Cup fever as thousands took to streets for public screenings on Monday, and president François Hollande showed his colours.
With the pain of South Africa four years ago still raw, Les Bleus fans kept their emotions in check during the group stage. Didier Deschamps' side made serene progress, showing great promise, and for their round of 16 meeting with Nigeria the dam broke, and that pent-up hope and expectation flowed onto the country's streets.
An 18.00CET kick-off meant that after work and school on Monday, people across the country slipped on a blue jersey, snatched a Tricolore flag and got out the face paint. Those who could not get away downed tools for two hours, crowding around television screens, computers, mobile phones – whatever means were available.
Hollande was among them (minus the face paint), as he watched the game at the presidential palace in the knowledgeable company of women's players from Paris FC and Cosmopolitan Club de Taverny. Having taken ownership of a No9 France shirt bearing his name, Hollande is expected to make his way to Rio de Janeiro and get a little closer to the action when Les Bleus take on Germany on Friday.
That quarter-final tie was reward for a 2-0 victory over Nigeria. For 78 minutes, though, there was great tension that the 'Allez les Bleus!' refrain that greeted their every chance could not mask. The thousands crammed into Paris's Place de l'Hôtel de Ville began to doubt. Then came Paul Pogba's header, triggering frantic celebrations that had barely receded when Joseph Yobo inadvertently made it 2-0 in added time.
The shouting, the chanting went on deep into the night, with the peeping cars providing percussion. It was all reminiscent of the best moments from France's previous glorious campaigns, their wins at the 1984 UEFA European Championship, the 1998 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000 – and a taster, perhaps, of what is to come at UEFA EURO 2016. And it is not over yet.
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