Paris (AFP) – President Francois Hollande said Sunday that France’s success at Euro 2016 was helping the country to heal from the Paris attacks and that even the national team had been scarred by the events in November.
Authorities are bracing for mass celebrations if France — a country still on high terrorist alert — win Sunday’s final against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Tricolore flags flew from apartment blocks and bars, and cafes and restaurants showing Les Bleus’ matches have been packed.
With each France match, the 90,000 capacity fan zone at the foot of the Eiffel Tower has been progressively fuller.
Hours before the final kicked off at 1900 GMT, mainly young supporters, many with the French flag draped round their shoulders, some wearing blue-red-white wigs, packed the zone waiting to watch the game on giant screens.
“The French people needed to find their way again,” Hollande said in a commentary on the wave of support for the national team.
“We saw it at the time of the attacks. We came together in the dramas, we had to find ourselves in the happiness, to come together,” he wrote in the Journal du Dimanche.
The November 13 attacks across Paris left 130 dead. The Stade de France where France were playing Germany at the time was one of the sites targeted by suicide bombers along with the Bataclan concert hall and cafes that are now packed again.
– ‘Team also affected’ –
Hollande said the French team coached by Didier Deschamps had been “very marked” by the attacks.
“The attacks were the same for them,” he wrote.
“They have decided they want to bring joy to the French people who experienced those events.
“They want to give happiness. Deschamps has given them this desire to make people happy. They know that this isn’t just any ordinary moment in time,” Hollande said.
Yet at the Casa Nostra pizza restaurant where five people were shot dead in the November attacks, Hollande’s claims that the football was bringing the country together fell on deaf ears.
Samir Safer, a 38-year-old waiter who was back at work after a six-month layoff brought on by the trauma, told AFP: “I don’t think he can control anything. It’s a complex problem.”
On November 13, the suicide bombers did not get into the stadium but one person was killed, a Portuguese man Manuel Dias.
At Stade de France, Benoit Richard, 45, a France fan who was attending the final with his son, Olan, said: “We can’t forget the sad event of November, but today you have to live with it.”
The buildup to the tournament was dominated by fears that it could be a target for more attacks but also by weeks of strikes and protests over the government’s bid to reform labour laws.
Hollande has this year recorded some of the lowest popularity scores for a post-war French president, but might still stand for re-election next year.
He admitted that reality would eventually crowd in even if France wins Sunday’s final.
“Sport allows people to come together but politics divides people,” he said.
“The Euro sweeps away everything else, it brings people together, but life will resume afterwards.”
“I support the French team, I go to all their matches but I don’t want to use sport for politics. That’s not good for sport or for politics,” the president said.
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