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Boulevardiers cheer World Cup heroes; Partying fans throng Champs-Elysees to proclaim host nation's hour of t riumph.

After a night of partying and a morning to sleep it of hundreds of thousands again took to the Champs-Elysees yesterday to acclaim in person "Les Bleus" - the heroes of France's World Cup win.

The players inched along the grand avenue in an open-topped bus, dressed in their World Cup jerseys and displaying the coveted golden trophy. A crush of adoring boulevardiers engulfed the bus, their arms outstretched.

"I've been up all night," said Elisabeth Wallon, aged 22. "It was magnificent. I've never seen a celebration like it."

Just as they were on Sunday, the subways were again filled with cheering, chanting people, both young and old, their faces still painted the red, white and blue of the French flag.

France's stunning 3-0 victory over Brazil sent the country into a paroxysm of patriotic celebration not seen since the Second World War Liberation, and it was expected to last through Tuesday - Bastille Day.

"The day of glory has arrived," France's national anthem goes, and the French were singing it everywhere. The merrymaking was marred, however, by an accident on the Champs-Elysees.

As more than a million people gathered on the avenue in the early morning hours, a panicked driver careered out of control and ploughed into a crowd of revellers injuring 80 people, 11 seriously.

The celebratory mood quickly turned into horror as dozens of ambulances and 200 rescue workers converged on the scene. Some of the victims were treated on the ground.

The driver, a 44-year-old schoolteacher, panicked and ran away from the scene, an official source reported.

It was a sour note in an otherwise ecstatic night for the French, who have never won the World Cup despite having invented the tournament.

This was the first time a host team won the championships since Argentina's victory in 1978. Brazil won the trophy in 1994, its fourth time.

"Amazing! World champions for the first time!" shouted Mr Christian Junker, aged 19, carrying one end of a giant French flag as he rushed out of the Saint-Denis stadium after the game.

He and two friends - all with faces painted the red, white and blue of the flag - had travelled from the Lorraine region and slept the previous night on the grass near the Eiffel Tower.

The three, all students, took issue with the prevailing view of French fans as less devoted than those in other countries.

"Not true! We believed in our team all along," said Mr Julien Charoin, aged 20. The triumph, they said, would mean a new sense of unity for France, which has its problems with racial and class tensions.

"This victory brings everyone together," said Mr Cedric Trunzler, aged 21.

"There are many races and religions here. But we are all French. We all won."

France found itself unified by a multiracial team.

Lilian Thuram, from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, scored two goals against Croatia to win the semi-final.

On Sunday, though, it was the beloved Zinedine Zidane, the son of an Algerian night watchman in Marseilles, who was the hero. His two goals gave France an unbeatable lead.

For the icing on the cake, Emmanuel Petit scored a third with less than a minute to go.

Zidane far outshone Brazil's Ronaldo, who nearly missed the game with an injured ankle.

"Brazil was comatose," said one of its dejected fans, Mr Cesar Lapaglia, aged 27. "We just didn't play," he wailed into his drink at a Brazilian bar in the Left Bank.

When the final whistle sounded, shouts of "We are the champions" echoed from crowds moving toward the Champs-Elysees from all over Paris - the Left Bank, the packed City Hall plaza, and the elegant shopping streets nearby.

They partied in front of the Louvre museum and the manicured Tuileries gardens, and also in front of Paris Sexy Folies in a gritty northern neighbourhood.

Youths used beer cans for soccer balls, or anything else they could find.

Traffic was impossible. Cars that could manage to move at all were often surrounded by groups of raucous fans. People begged taxis to stop, usually to no avail.

It wasn't much different in other parts of the country.

In Bordeaux, Lille and Marseilles, thousands clogged central squares and jumped into fountains to celebrate.

In Brazil, where a fifth victory was expected, fans expressed disbelief.

Many Brazilians had tears in their eyes as they stared at a large public television screen mounted on Copacabana beach.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 14, 1998
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