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'Cruel' blow to French hope of football elixir

AFP , Monday 11 Jul 2016
France
Sandra Evra, wife of France's defender Patrice Evra, consles her son after Portugal beat France 1-0 in the Euro 2016 final football match between France and Portugal at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on July 10, 2016. (AFP)
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It was meant to be a moment of collective euphoria, with Euro 2016 offering hopes of a salve to France's wounds after the Paris terror attacks and months of political blues.

Though a crestfallen France did not wake up on Monday to the party it had hoped for -- after its loss to Portugal -- the nation revelled in a rare moment of unity after reaching the final and successfully hosting the high-risk tournament.

"So cruel," headlined Le Parisien newspaper, summing up the thoughts of many who glumly walked out of bars and fan zones after the excruciating 1-0 loss in the final minutes of the game.

"We would so have loved a collective explosion of joy. Too bad," the daily said in its editorial.

"And the dream shattered..." wrote Le Figaro on its front page.

France's presence in the final had brought a much-needed air of excitement to the country living under a constant threat of terror attacks and dogged by months of violent anti-government protests.

"With everything that has happened, the attacks, the demonstrations, the economic crisis, we deserved something to make us feel better," said a dejected Lazaro de Santana, 31, after the match.

The final was, however, slightly marred by clashes between police and fans who were refused entrance to the packed fan zone at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, with 40 people arrested.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the angry fans, who set alight rubbish bins, a car and a scooter and lobbed bottles and other objects at officers.

A spokesman for the Eiffel Tower management company SETE said the landmark would be closed on Monday after the incidents, which left the grounds littered with debris and broken fencing.

'A joyous digression'

The tournament kicked off with anxiety over the jihadist threat and fears over France's image as strikes brought transport chaos and saw rubbish piling up in the street.

However despite a wave of hooligan violence at the start of the European championships, the spirit of the game quickly took over and fan zones and bars were packed throughout.

And the French quickly shrugged off the gloom of recent months as their team swept to the final, beating firm favourites such as Germany.

Despite bemoaning the "cruel outcome" of the tournament, Le Figaro newspaper said in an editorial that the French football side could still feel proud of its achievements.

"France must dry its tears because it has every reason to be proud. The competition was a popular success even though its organisation was tricky with the risk of attacks," it wrote.

"It will remain a joyous digression for a nation which... is in the doldrums. The magic of football worked."

Before the match, French President Francois Hollande said that the French needed to find a way to unite again.

When Paris was struck by jihadists in January 2015, with attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket leaving 17 dead, over a million people marched through the capital in a show of unity.

However after a team of jihadists struck Paris bars, restaurants, a concert hall and the Stade de France on November 13, killing 130, a semblance of unity quickly dissolved into political bickering.

"The French people needed to find their way again," Hollande said of the joy that united the country as its football team swept into the final.

However Hollande, who has recorded some of the lowest popularity scores for a post-war French president, warned that the euphoria of sporting success was short-lived.

"Sport allows people to come together but politics divides people," the president said.

"The Euro sweeps away everything else, it brings people together, but life will resume afterwards."

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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