France departed for Brazil today and they will make the trip to the FIFA World Cup in high spirits after a perfect send off in Lille on Sunday.
Les Bleus had not played in this part of Northern France for 18 years, but after a scintillating display which saw them defeat Jamaica 8-0 – the joint second biggest victory in their history – there is every chance they will want to return again soon.
There was a celebratory atmosphere in the city long before France's masterful display, as the Stade Pierre Mauroy staged international football for the first time on what was always going to be a historic night. The match was a dress rehearsal for two years' time when the city will host six games at UEFA EURO 2016 and in the hours before kick-off, its famous cobbled streets and squares were slowly turned blue, white and red.
Normally a bustling metropolitan centre, football ruled for the day, and the excitement continued at the stadium where long queues formed outside the ground long before the gates had even opened. Once the supporters were inside, the decibel levels rose further still when shortly before the match started, current France and LOSC Lille star Rio Mavuba took to the microphone to lead a rendition of 'Allez les Bleus'.
Once the game was underway, it was a former Les Dogues favourite in Yohan Cabaye that caught the eye. The midfielder, who won the double with LOSC in 2011, opened the scoring, but by full time it was Karim Benzema's name that echoed around the ground, on a night when France played in front of a stadium-record crowd of 49,626. The Real Madrid CF forward left to a standing ovation when he was replaced with four minutes to go, after a dazzling performance that included two goals and an assist.
By that stage, Lille was in full party mode, and the celebrations continued long after the final whistle. Outside, the sound of car horns filled the air as the French tricolore was proudly flown from seemingly every vehicle that made its way into the night. France's first visit to Stade Pierre Mauroy will certainly live long in the memory.
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