PARIS (AP) — Losing to Argentina wasn't the outcome they had hoped for, but for the dejected French fans, the World Cup final was an emotional rollercoaster they won't soon forget, with a bittersweet result.
Although France had to accept defeat, they could take solace in the fact that Lionel Messi was the one to take the trophy home.
The knowledge that they had witnessed one of the greatest finals of all time helped the supporters of Les Bleus to overcome the tears and the agony of Argentina's epic win in a penalty shootout on Sunday.
“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's forward Kylian Mbappé at Lusail Stadium in Qatar, fans back home looked on the bright side, expressing their pride in their team's performance. Macron's gesture of support was a reminder of the nation's unity and strength, even in the face of defeat.
“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.
“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 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 iconic Champs-Elysées in anticipation of the throngs of celebrating crowds that would soon fill the boulevard. When France twice equalized to level the score at 3-3, the atmosphere was electric as fireworks lit up the night sky. However, the joy was short-lived as Argentina ultimately triumphed 4-2 in the penalty shootout, leaving the French in sorrow.
“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, 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. Despite the biting cold, fans still flocked to bars and homes to watch the match, while those who couldn't get spots inside wrapped up warm as they watched outside bars on sidewalks. This year's World Cup, moved to November-December from its usual June-July spot, has been an unusual experience for fans in France and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, who have had to brave the cold weather to cheer on their teams.
“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.
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.”
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.