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French Fans Cheer Soccer Team

July 9, 1998

PARIS (AP) _ Paris and its stately boulevards became the stage for a night of giddy partying Wednesday, as the ecstatic French celebrated a come-from-behind win over Croatia to reach the World Cup final.

As the game’s final whistle sounded, fans poured out of cafes and bars, screaming with triumph and sheer delight after their beloved ``Blues″ made history with the 2-1 win.

On Sunday, France will play in the final for the first time ever against defending champion Brazil.

``It’s a complete euphoria taking over France,″ yelled Geraldine Lessieux, 20, as she and hundreds of others ran into a small bar-lined street in Paris’ Left Bank.

``Each time France wins it’s like a shot from a cannon,″ she said. ``And I don’t even like soccer that much.″

The partying was national. In Lille, in the north, in Lyon and Grenoble, in the southeast, and Bordeaux, in the west, people filled downtown streets, shouting, whistling and honking their joy.

In Paris, the party was everywhere: from the gritty northern neighborhoods to the swanky Rue de Rivoli, from the Louvre museum to the ritzy Faubourg St. Honore shopping street.

It centered on the Champs Elysees _ police put the numbers there at 350,000. The famous avenue was closed off to traffic as flag-draped fans marched triumphantly toward _ what else _ the Arc de Triomphe.

Riot police stood by in clusters, but there were no immediate reports of any trouble.

Croatian fans were morose, but good-natured. ``We love you, Croatia!″ they shouted at the Torcida bar in eastern Paris.

France may not have the most diehard soccer fans in the world, but with the success of its team, it has definitely caught World Cup fever.

``We’re going to the final!″ shouted hordes pouring out of the stadium at Saint-Denis, a northern suburb, their faces smeared with paint in red white and blue, the national colors.

``It’s amazing!″ said Jerome Vivie, 27, covered with war paint on the Champs Elysees. ``The most beautiful final we could have hoped for _ France and Brazil.″

After the final whistle at Stade de France, President Jacques Chirac strode onto the field, raised his arms and cheered delightedly. ``This is truly the most beautiful day in French sports _ France in the final!″ he said.

For France, the country that invented the World Cup, it was an exquisite moment of soccer history.

But some see the team’s recent success as something more: the most unifying thing that’s happened here in a long time, bringing together old and young, men and women, and different social groups in a burst of patriotic enthusiasm.

The fever seemed to be spreading to women, too.

Danielle Trepant, a 46-year-old housewife from northern France, was dressed head-to-foot in tricolor-flag jacket and pants and a jester hat with pom-poms and bells.

``I have to admit, I didn’t really watch soccer much before this,″ she said. ``Actually, hardly at all. But this is different _ it’s in France, and the World Cup.″

Vincent Rey, a wine seller from Clermont-Ferrand in the south, paused on a train ride to the stadium to explain how he got his tickets: a lottery at his bank, six months ago.

``It’s not true, that we don’t love soccer like the others,″ he said, offering the theory that the French taste in soccer is somewhat similar to its taste in wine: discriminating.

``We appreciate the beauty of a good game,″ Rey said. ``We are less interested in who wins.″

Not everyone thinks the current euphoria will last long after the World Cup.

``There will be happiness for a few days,″ said textile worker Nicolas Tchicedemian, 25, riding home on the subway to watch the game on TV. ``Then, everything will go right back to normal.″

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