Monday, 6 February, 2023
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Macron intervened to ask French team to greet fans: federation

PARIS - President Emmanuel Macron intervened to ask France's footballers to greet fans after their defeat in the World Cup final, leading to a brief public ceremony, the French football federation chief said Tuesday.

France's players initially wanted to head straight home Monday after their loss on penalties to Argentina the previous evening, the head of the French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet, told AFP in a statement.

"Under the weight of the disappointment, the sadness and such strong emotions, I understood this choice and I respected it," he said.

"The situation changed around 10:00 am (on Monday) after an exchange with the president, who wanted a moment of communion. Naturally I accepted along with the team," he added.

After a confusing day of contradictory statements, the French players eventually appeared for a few minutes on Monday evening on the balcony of the five-star Crillon hotel at the historic Place de la Concorde.

Around 50,000 people packed the public square to wave, cheer and sing the national anthem, many having waited for more than four hours in the dark and cold.

Despite a mostly festive atmosphere, some in the crowd grumbled that the players were barely visible as they waved regally from the balcony behind a wide police cordon.

Several French players said they were delighted by the sight of the crowd.

"Frankly, it's magnificent, it warms the heart, it's a great pleasure to see that we were able to make so many French people proud and happy," forward Marcus Thuram told TF1 TV.

Reaction in France has been overwhelmingly supportive of the national team which came close to retaining the World Cup despite a series of injuries to senior players such as Ballon D'Or winner Karim Benzema and a virus in the camp last week.

Macron's performance at the final at the Lusail Stadium outside Doha on Sunday has sparked almost as much commentary as that of the team.

The 44-year-old football fan could be seen jumping from his seat during the game before descending to console the distraught players at the end as they crumpled to the turf following the penalty shoot-out.

The centrist then delivered a post-game pep talk in the changing room, leading to criticism from some domestic opponents and commentators that he was intruding too much into the team's space.