France has rediscovered its love for the national football team after years of scandal and disappointment, as well as a new sports hero in sure-fire striker Antoine Griezmann.
Griezmann scored twice on Thursday, leading France to a 2-0 victory against Germany in the Euro 2016 semi-final, and setting off football fever that has not been seen since the glory days of winning the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000.
Tens of thousands took to the streets of Paris after Thursday's win in celebrations that were partially tainted by clashes with riot police on the Champs Elysees.
There were 90,000 people in a fan zone under the Eiffel Tower and tens of thousands more in front of giant screens in cities around the country.
"The support of the people is extraordinary," said France coach Didier Deschamps.
"Before we came to the stadium, we saw people going crazy. They are going to be even crazier on Sunday," he added. France will meet Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal at the Stade de France near Paris on Sunday.
Years of disappointment
The European Championship has enabled the France squad to redeem their image, after the uproar that has never been far away in recent years.
The players went on strike at the 2010 World Cup following a dispute between striker Nicolas Anelka and then manager Raymond Domenech.
France advanced to the quarter-finals of both Euro 2012 and the World Cup in 2014, but failed to advance further and spark enthusiasm among fans.
Last year, star striker Karim Benzema was charged with complicity in a sex-tape blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema is now excluded from the squad.
Then tragedy struck France last November 13. Militants who staged attacks that left 130 people dead across Paris sent suicide bombers to the Stade de France where France were playing Germany in a friendly.
The country has been in a state of emergency ever since.
A chance for revenge
Griezmann has rejected comparisons with football great Michel Platini, but with six goals already in his first European Championships, Griezmann is only three short of equalling Platini's record of nine goals at the 1984 tournament.
"He's a great player. He showed what kind of generous player he is tonight," said France coach Didier Deschamps after Thursday’s victory against the defending world champions.
"In this Euro, he's been decisive for us. He can score, and he can help others score," Deschamps added.
Benzema tweeted his congratulations to the team on Thursday. "Come on, just one match to go!!!" he said.
But Benzema could not be further from most fans' thoughts. Now, Le Bleu is Griezmann – and in Marseille he was ruthless.
In the Champions League final in May, Griezmann missed a first-half penalty for Atletico Madrid. City rivals Real Madrid went on to capitalise, winning their 11th European Cup in Milan in the process.
On Thursday, the striker coolly scored the penalty after a Bastian Schweinsteiger handball.
"I wanted to take a penalty again in an important moment and I'm happy I did, and happy I scored," he said.
On Sunday, Griezmann has the chance to take revenge for the Champions League defeat by beating Portugal and stopping Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo from securing one of the few trophies he still lacks – a major finals title with Portugal.
It will also be a chance to cement his reputation as one of France’s all-time greats.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2016-07-08