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Cup victory has France's spirit soaring

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Posted: Monday July 13, 1998 12:24 AM

  Zinedine Zidane (center), the hero of the final match, clutches the World Cup (AP)

SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) -- The cup itself is a piece of 18-carat gold that resembles an oversized ice cream cone. In spirit, the cup is beyond measure.

And on Sunday, following a 3-0 victory over mighty Brazil in the World Cup final, the spirit of France was soaring.

The country had its first World Cup title and a jolt of glory so potent it propelled millions into the streets from Paris to the tiniest of villages.

In a decidedly French flourish, 300 top models paraded in Yves Saint Laurent gowns to Ravel's Bolero played on steel drums before the game.

Afterward, the jolt of Zinedine Zidane's two goals still reverberating, a pageant of sound and lights with a dazzling burst of fireworks filled the stadium sky.

The crowd that streamed to the Champs-Elysees to celebrate was estimated at a million people. There was an accident there early Monday when an apparently panicked driver plowed into a group of celebrating fans, injuring about 60 people, according to rescue officials.

Since Friday, a two-day tailgate party threaded through Paris, with pockets of nonstop gaiety. French flags fluttered from car windows and above bicycles. Crowds chanted, "We're in the finals," but hardly anyone risked the traditional, "We're going to win."

On Sunday, a crowd gathered early by a big screen and yelled itself hoarse. Strangers smiled and high-fived. Repeatedly, they chanted, "If you're proud to be French, clap your hands." Everyone clapped.

Brazilians were everywhere. At least 30,000 who came from home were joined by Brazilian residents in Europe and unofficial Brazilians at heart.

Five hours before the match, the open areas around Stade de France were alive with noise and color.

Dabibo Daniel and his friend, Tilo Batilo, both wearing yellow shirts, spread a Brazilian flag on the ground and performed a voodoo rite. "Ronaldo, Ronaldo," they intoned.

The Arc de Triomphe served as a giant celebration screen as thousands of fans filled the Champs-Elysees (AP) 

Nearby, under a blur waving blue-white-red flags, young women wearing abbreviated cancan outfits in crimson sequins toasted bare shoulders in the sun. A group of painted French fans brandished a confused and angry rooster, a symbol of France, who was clearly no soccer lover.

If a potential for terrorism hung in the air, it spoiled nothing. Policemen putted by on scooters. Riot troops strolled among fans, with only soft caps and sidearms instead of their usual combat gear.

Although heavily outnumbered, the Brazilians won the pregame fans' World Cup.

Some Frenchmen came in full war paint and elaborate costumes, with floppy tricolor hats. But most wore fashionable black or ordinary street clothes, with only blue-red streaks on their cheeks. They yelled, a little self-consciously.

The Brazilians, however, ablaze in their colors, shouted and undulated to tambourines or drums.

Several defectors left the French side when Karina Ramos of Rio de Janeiro sambaed past wearing only skimpy shorts and dabs of yellow and green where her top should be.

A carnival group from Recife in fanciful costumes danced through the crowds under a colorful feathered canopy. Brazilians and Frenchmen alike partied in the wake of music trailing behind.

France, badly in need of grandeur and troubled by racial strife, found itself unified by a multiracial team.

The team had triumphed just by reaching the final. And despite outrage over ticket distribution and police street battles with hooligans, the tournament was a clear success.

Pele, the soccer great working as a commentator for Brazil's Globo television network, declared France a worthy champion.

"Brazil did not perform as expected and the cup is in good hands. ... France deserves the title," he said.

On the field, and in spirit.

 

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