Despite defeat, French national team return home as heroes
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Hundreds of supporters cheered France’s footballers as they returned home on Sunday, following their elimination from the World Cup in Brazil two days ago.
Fans braved rain and unseasonably cold weather at Le Bourget airport on the outskirts of Paris to welcome the team back with showers of applause.
Coach Didier Deschamps’s men were greeted as heroes, despite their quarter-final exit from the tournament at the hands of rivals Germany.
“Les Bleus are back home, but nobody here has the blues,” FRANCE 24’s Mark Owen quipped outside the airport terminal where the athletes, trainers and staff arrived around noon.
“The players went over to a group of fans who had been screaming to get their attention. They said hello, signed autographs, shared handshakes and kisses on both cheeks,” Owen said, “There was a really good atmosphere.”
A new attitude
The warm reception was markedly different from the scorn leveled at the national football squad after its catastrophic campaign in the 2010 World Cup.
At the tournament hosted by South Africa, France failed to advance from the group stage, but not before one player was sacked for insulting then-coach Raymond Domenech, prompting players to strike before a scheduled training session.
Back then, the French expressed little sympathy for the disgruntled players, and the footballers in turn appeared to have little patience for supporters.
“This is a great change from what we saw four years ago, when basically the players had no time for the fans,” Owen noted.
Looking toward the future
France lost to Germany 1-0 in their quarter-final match in Rio de Janeiro on July 5, but did remarkably well in the previous group stage, at one point defeating Switzerland 5-2.
The team triumphed over Nigeria in the final-16 round, but then came up against Germany, a more experienced side many say are the favourites to lift the World Cup trophy.
Fans have credited Deschamps for turning the team around, and the players for performing to the best of their abilities. Furthermore, many see a cohesive group that is poised for future greatness.
“I think what we could see was a fan base and a footballing unit building towards the Euro 2016 competition that will be hosted by France,” Owen added. “France is a young team, a young squad of talented players who can only get better.”