France’s dismay mixed with awe for Messi in World Cup final

Dec 17, 2022, 4:27 PM | Updated: Dec 18, 2022, 12:16 pm
A fan of France holds his head at the end of the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and...

A fan of France holds his head at the end of the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Argentina won in a penalty shootout. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

PARIS (AP) — In the pain, there also was consolation. Losing to Argentina in the World Cup final wasn’t the ending that heart-broken France fans hoped for. Still, even they could see the merits of having experienced a roller-coaster so intense as to be unforgettable and the outcome both bitter and sweet.

Because if France had to lose, then Lionel Messi winning was a decent second-best.

The knowledge that they’d been treated to one of the greatest finals of all time helped fans of Les Bleus overcome the tears and the agony of Sunday’s epic win by Argentina in a penalty shootout.

“It was the best match of my life — ever,” said 29-year-old Abdoul Toure, who watched in a Paris bar.

As French President Emmanuel Macron consoled France forward Kylian Mbappé after his hat trick at Lusail Stadium in Qatar put France within touching distance of victory but still wasn’t enough, fans back home looked on the bright side, saying their team had done them proud.

“They make us dream until the very end,” said Loïc Aubret, a 32-year-old engineer. “They were strong mentally. They can be proud of themselves since we didn’t bet a dime on them at first.”

Losing to Messi made the defeat somewhat more bearable. As much as it stung to see Les Bleus come so close to defending their title from 2018, some fans said they were happy that Messi finally got his hands on the only major trophy to elude him. At 35, he is nearing the end of his storied career.

“That Messi won, that lessens the pain a bit,” said Ulysse Zaoui, 24. “I’m sad but it was a beautiful match.”

Mark Davis, a 35-year-old soccer coach from Salt Lake City who watched the match with friends in Paris, agreed.

“Wow, unbelievable,” he said after France came back from 2-0 down and then evened the match again after Messi made it 3-2 in extra time.

Davis eventually got what he wanted: A victory for Messi — thanks to Argentina triumphing 4-2 in the penalty shootout. But being in Paris to experience all that drama blurred the lines.

“My heart was completely torn in half,” he said.

With concrete blocks painted blue, white and red, police sealed off the French capital’s most famous boulevard — the Champs-Elysées — to traffic in anticipation of it flooding with celebrating crowds. People did gather and fireworks were fired into the sky when France twice equalized.

But after the sorrow of the penalty shootout, the Champs-Elysées and bars that had been packed quickly emptied and cold rain added to the sense of mourning.

“I’m completely heart-broken,” 18-year-old Oscar Schuman said. “I’m more proud than anything else.

“It was a battle of the gods. This game, I went through every emotion.”

Fans had painted blue, white and red stripes on their faces and squeezed into national jerseys, hoping that Les Bleus would become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win consecutive World Cups.

Biting cold drove fans indoors, to bars and homes. Those who couldn’t get spots inside wrapped up warm as they watched outside bars on sidewalks. For fans in France and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, cold weather was an unusual feature of this year’s World Cup, moved to November-December from its usual June-July spot.

“People are less excited, they have less chance to meet and celebrate together,” said Ombeline De Pomerole, a 27-year-old economist who managed to shoehorn herself into a crowded Paris bar.

Like some other fans, she had initially boycotted the World Cup in Qatar, purposefully ignoring the competition because of her concerns for migrant workers in the Gulf state. But France’s success eventually changed her mind and she said she started tuning in after Les Bleus beat England in the quarterfinals.

Pharmacist Benoit Labouret, 28, also said the World Cup appeared to have generated less fervor than in 2018 “because it’s winter and in Qatar.”

“Some don’t agree with the conditions, the workers’ (deaths),” he said. “I’m not committed enough to boycott.”

In Paris, the Metro operator marked the momentous occasion by temporarily renaming one of its stations, changing the stop “Argentina” to “Argentina-France, let’s go les Bleus!”

Players past and present also sent messages of support.

“Playing a World Cup final is a childhood dream. Let’s go and get this third star! Allez les Bleus!” Zinedine Zidane posted on Instagram.

It wasn’t to be. Still, it was an unforgettable ride.

“It was a beautiful party, a beautiful match,” said Dimitri Martel, 37. “We chanted, we screamed. It was such a moment of joy despite the result.”

___

Associated Press writers Alex Turnbull and Boubkar Benzebat in Paris and John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, contributed to this report.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Orlando Magic's Paolo Banchero, top, dunks during the second half of an NBA basketball game against...
Associated Press

Banchero headlines field for All-Star Rising Stars event

Paolo Banchero’s rookie season will include a trip to NBA All-Star weekend. The Orlando Magic forward and No. 1 pick in last year’s draft was announced Tuesday as a participant in this year’s Rising Stars Game, to be held in Salt Lake City on Feb. 17, two nights before the All-Star Game. Banchero — who […]
2 days ago
Ben Kennedy, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Development and Strategy for NASCAR at his offi...
Associated Press

Column: Kennedy takes bold risks with NASCAR family business

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ben Kennedy may someday be the head of NASCAR. If it happens, it won’t be a case of nepotism. Yes, he is the the great-grandson of NASCAR’s founder, but the 31-year-old graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in sports management and has spent his entire life learning […]
2 days ago
Jon Rahm hold the winner's trophy after the American Express golf tournament on the Pete Dye Stadiu...
Associated Press

Column: The only rivalry in golf is about tours, not players

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Jon Rahm began his year by winning two in a row on the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy began his year with birdies on the last two holes to win in Dubai. This would seem to have the look of golf’s latest rivalry in the making, except that it will be […]
2 days ago
Florida center Jason Jitoboh (33) runs up court after making a shot against Alabama during the firs...
Associated Press

Jitoboh’s recovery coming into focus year after eye injury

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jason Jitoboh won’t step foot onto a basketball court without his glasses. And he doesn’t even need them to see. The darkened lenses merely provide extra protection for what eyesight Jitoboh has remaining. Florida’s 6-foot-11 center took a finger to his left eye at Tennessee last January and spent the better […]
2 days ago
FILE - Former heavyweight boxing world champion Wladimir Klitschko leaves after a meeting with Germ...
Associated Press

Boxer Klitschko joins fight against Olympic path for Russia

GENEVA (AP) — Olympic gold medalist Wladimir Klitschko has joined Ukraine’s fight against IOC plans to let some Russians compete at the 2024 Paris Summer Games. The former heavyweight champion suggested in a video message published Monday that sports leaders will be accomplices to the war if athletes from Russia and its military ally Belarus […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

UK police chiefs apologize to Hillsborough disaster families

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s police chiefs promised a “cultural change” on Tuesday as they apologized to families of the victims in the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, the U.K.’s worst sports disaster which saw 97 people killed during a crush of soccer fans at an overcrowded stadium. “For what happened, as a senior policing leader, I profoundly […]
2 days ago
France’s dismay mixed with awe for Messi in World Cup final