‘I’m backing the France team, and I think that the French are too,’ President Emmanuel Macron said.
Even politics cannot stop Emmanuel Macron from cheering on Les Bleus.
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He was in Qatar on Wednesday for Les Bleus’ semifinal match with Morocco, where he applauded France’s 2-0 victory from box seats. He watched the match alongside FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
The president’s support for the French team is symbolic of a football-obsessed nation, which is riding a high as it stands on the precipice of winning back-to-back World Cups.
“I feel very proud of my country. I’m very happy,” Macron told reporters after the match against Morocco.
“I want the French to enjoy this simple happiness.”
Macron’s 13,000km (8,000 miles) round trip to Qatar will be worth it though if the French side can seize the country’s third World Cup title.
“Bring her back?” he tweeted on Wednesday, referencing the trophy that the French call the “Coupe Du Monde”.
Macron also caught some heat for supporting Les Bleus in person. Climate activists lashed out at the French leader for taking the six-hour one-way trip to Doha, which they pointed out as environmentally harmful.
“We thought that it was a shocking failure of leadership that Emmanuel Macron would go watch football” instead of attending a United Nations biodiversity conference in Canada, Oscar Soria, the campaign director for global activism non-profit Avaaz, said on Twitter on December 14.
Macron was unapologetic.
“I’m backing the France team and I think that the French are too,” Macron said at a European summit in Brussels on Thursday.
In France, the pre-match mood has reached fever pitch following the win over Morocco and as fans eagerly awaited Sunday’s match. More than 20 million viewers tuned in to watch the semifinal on France’s TF1 television, a historic figure.
On Wednesday evening in Paris, fans spilled into Champs-Élysées by the thousands, with many singing “we are in the final” and carrying French flags and firing red flares. Cars circled the iconic Arc de Triomphe, raising a symphony of honking horns.
Riot police, who were stationed in heavy numbers along the boulevards earlier this week, fired tear gas at times to control the pulsating crowd. French authorities have since called for Champs-Élysées’s closure ahead of Sunday’s game and thousands of riot police are expected to be deployed across Paris in anticipation of another seismic crowd.
Elsewhere in France, in the northern city of Compiegne, fans gathered in a gymnasium to watch France’s World Cup campaign.
“Sunday is just a formality, the cup is already in France,” said Karine, 28.
Even if Mbappe does not lift the Coupe Du Monde on Sunday, he has already inspired a generation of young French football players.
“It motivates me, boosts me, makes me want to work even harder,” 12-year-old Yacine Ngamatah, who plays for Paris club team AS Bondy, which Mbappe played for as a boyhood prodigy, told The Associated Press news agency.
Ngamatah, who scored four of his team’s 10 goals on Saturday versus a club from a different suburb of Paris, is one of the countless young French players who hope to now follow in Mbappe’s footsteps.
“When I watch the France team I get all emotional, because I think maybe one day my kid, too, will be with them,” said parent Rabiah Bertrand, whose 12-year-old son Ilan was also playing on Saturday.
In Doha, French fans who made the trip to the Gulf nation were also wildly optimistic about Les Bleus’ odds against Messi and his Argentinian colleagues.
“It’s going to be very tough against Argentina but I think we can do it,” a French fan said outside Al Bayt Stadium. “We have a great defence and as for our attack, when we play well, we’re unstoppable.”