Paris: There were jubilant scenes on the Champs-Elysees avenue in central Paris on Wednesday as French supporters waved tricolour flags and let off flares to celebrate the win over Morocco that put Les Bleus into the World Cup final.
Some 10,000 police were mobilised across France to ensure there was no unrest during and after the match, given the potential of clashes between French supporters and those backing France’s one-time North African colony. But there was little sign of tension as supporters thronged the end of the avenue leading to the Arc de Triomphe in impassioned but largely good-natured scenes with Moroccan supporters accepting defeat, AFP correspondents said. “We are in the final. We are in the final,” hundreds of French supporters chanted as drivers sounded horns and anti-riot police lurked in vans lining the area.
“What pleasure it will be to play Argentina in the final,” said Sylvain Badin, 24, clutching a French flag. “I came to share a moment of joy.” Dozens of Moroccan fans had also made themselves heard during the match in the area, swathing themselves in national flags as they followed the match on their phones. “We lost but it’s only football and we made history by making the semi-finals. We are proud of our country and happy for France,” said Kamal Seddiki, a 22-year-old Moroccan student. There were 170 arrests nationwide, including more than 100 in Paris, when Morocco and France made the semi-finals at the weekend.
– ‘We are together’ –
But celebrations appeared free of tension and a French anti-riot police van even used one of its sirens to mark the moment when Kolo Muani scored the goal to give France a 2-0 lead. Police did however move to disperse a group of fans who were setting off fireworks around the Arc de Triomphe. And a group of about 40 people aligned with far-right groups were arrested for carrying prohibited weapons, a police source said, as they prepared to move towards the Champs-Elysees.
“They clearly wanted to fight on the Champs,” the police source said. In the southern city of Nice, trash cans were set on fire after the game in the centre of the city where thousands had gathered, an AFP photographer said. In Lyon, police used tear gas when supporters began to let off firecrackers in the central Place Bellecour.
France’s relationship with Morocco is not nearly as traumatic as with Algeria, another former colony that fought a bloody seven-year War of Independence that scars both nations to this day. But as in any post-colonial relationship, Morocco, which won independence in 1956, has its grievances with France, most notably over the question of visas. More than a million Moroccans are believed to live in France and security forces had been on alert for any clashes like those in Brussels that marked Morocco’s shock win over Belgium in the group stages.
“We are happy for France,” said Hossam Boutalah, 20, with a Moroccan flag on his back in the southwestern city of Bordeaux where the central square was packed for the match. “We are brothers after all, we are together. It is our second country. Morocco played well and would have deserved to score a goal.”