FIFA World Cup 2022 | France's dismay mixed with awe for Messi in World Cup final

Dismayed fans in France are finding reasons to be cheerful amid the pain of Les Bleus' loss to Argentina in the World Cup final

December 19, 2022 04:49 am | Updated 07:08 pm IST - PARIS

Fans react as they watch the final football match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup between Argentina and France on a screen at a fan-zone in the townhall’s courtyard in Cayenne, French Guiana on December 18, 2022.

Fans react as they watch the final football match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup between Argentina and France on a screen at a fan-zone in the townhall’s courtyard in Cayenne, French Guiana on December 18, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

Losing to Argentina wasn't the end they hoped for. Still, for dismayed French fans, the World Cup final was an emotional roller-coaster they'll never forget, with an outcome both bitter and sweet.

Because if France had to lose, then Lionel Messi winning was a decent second-best.

The knowledge that they'd been treated to one of the greatest finals of all time helped fans of Les Bleus overcome the tears and the agony of Sunday’s epic win by Argentina in a penalty shootout.

"It was the best match of my life — ever,” said 29-year-old Abdoul Toure, who watched the match in Paris bar.

As French President Emmanuel Macron consoled France forward Kylian Mbappé at Lusail Stadium in Qatar, fans back home looked on the bright side, saying their team had done them proud.

“They make us dream until the very end,” said Loïc Aubret, a 32-year-old engineer. “They were strong mentally. They can be proud of themselves since we didn’t bet a dime on them at first.”

Losing to Messi made defeat more bearable for some French fans. As much as it stung to see Les Bleus come so close to victory, some said they were happy that Messi had finally got his hands on the only major trophy to elude him.

“That Messi won, that lessens the pain a bit,” said Ulysse Zaoui, 24. “I’m sad but it was a beautiful match.”

Mark Davis, a 35-year-old soccer coach from Salt Lake City who watched the match with friends in Paris, agreed.

“Wow, unbelievable," he said.

Davis got what he wanted: A victory for Messi. But watching the match in Paris blurred the lines.

“My heart was completely torn in half,” he said.

Paris police sealed off the French capital's most famous boulevard — the Champs-Elysées — to traffic in anticipation of it flooding with celebrating crowds. People did gather and there were fireworks fired into the sky when France twice equalized to level the final score at 3-3.

But the end was full of French sorrow as Argentina triumphed 4-2 in the penalty shootout.

“I’m completely heart-broken,” 18-year-old Oscar Schuman said, adding “I'm more proud than anything else.

“It was a battle of the gods. This game, I went through every emotion.”

Fans had painted blue, white and red stripes on their faces and squeezed into national jerseys as they gathered to watch the match. They had been hoping that Les Bleus would defend the title they won in 2018 and become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win consecutive World Cups.

Biting cold drove fans indoors, to bars and homes. Those who couldn't get spots inside wrapped up warm as they watched outside bars on sidewalks. For fans in France and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, cold weather has been an unusual feature of this year's World Cup, moved to November-December from its usual June-July spot.

“People are less excited, they have less chance to meet and celebrate together,” said Ombeline De Pomerole, a 27-year-old economist who managed to shoehorn herself into a crowded bar in Paris.

Like some other fans, she had initially boycotted the World Cup in Qatar, purposefully ignoring the competition because of her concerns for migrant workers in the Gulf state. But France's success eventually changed her mind and she said she started tuning in after Les Bleus beat England in the quarterfinals.

Pharmacist Benoit Labouret, 28, also said the World Cup appeared to have generated less fervor than in 2018 “because it’s winter and in Qatar.”

“Some don’t agree with the conditions, the workers’ (deaths)," he said. “I’m not committed enough to boycott.”

World Cup fever was particularly strong in the Paris suburb where Mbappé honed his silky skills, among kids at his boyhood club who dream of following in the superstar’s footsteps.

In Paris, the Metro operator marked the momentous occasion by temporarily renaming one of its stations, changing the stop “Argentina” to “Argentina-France, let’s go les Bleus!”

Players past and present had sent messages of support.

“Playing a World Cup final is a childhood dream. Let’s go and get this third star! Allez les Bleus!” Zinedine Zidane posted on Instagram.

It wasn't to be.

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