PARIS (Reuters) - Crowds of cheering French soccer fans gathered in Paris on Sunday, draped in red, white and blue and singing the Marseillaise, as excitement grew head of the France-Croatia showdown at the World Cup final in Moscow.
A day after the nation celebrated Bastille Day - the storming of a prison during the French Revolution in 1789 - with a late-night fireworks display over the Eiffel tower, large numbers congregated in the same spot to watch the final.
One of the biggest TV screens imaginable - 140 square metres (1,500 square feet) and adapted to be watched in broad daylight -- has been installed at the foot of the tower, with several others arranged to the sides around a vast green space.
The fanzone, with capacity for 90,000 people, was full to the brim by 1100 GMT -- four hours before kick-off -- with many more unable to get in, officials said. Security staff were struggling to cope with the massive crowds and there were some minor scuffles between fans and police.
Some spectators were set to spend more than 10 hours in the sun waiting for the match. With temperatures in Paris rising to 31 degrees Celsius (88 Fahrenheit), emergency services were on standby for anyone passing out.
But the mood was festive with beer cans being shared around and the whiff of marijuana filling the air.
“The atmosphere is electric. Everyone is here for France to win,” said Sarah, 21, who came with six of university friends. They were happy despite not being able to get into the fan zone.
“It does not matter if we do not see the screen, we have our phones, we have water and we are together - that’s what’s important, everyone here has so much desire for victory.”
French striker Kylian Mbappe, 19 and one of the standout stars of the World Cup, fuelled the national mood via Twitter.
“Happy national day to all, let’s hope the party continues until tomorrow night,” he tweeted on Saturday. His picture graced most newspapers on Sunday as French hopes soar that they can bring the World Cup home for a second time.
“Get us the second star!” urged Le Parisien newspaper, hoping for a repeat of the team’s 1998 win on home soil.
Sports newspaper L’Equipe had a similar message.
“Carried by a whole country, Les Bleus of Didier Deschamps and Kylian Mbappe are on a quest for a second World Cup title, and thus of a second star, 20 years after the last one,” it wrote. “So far, fortune has smiled on them. Now in the final it’s the dreaded Croatia.”
The national team strip has been selling out across the country, and chefs and bakers have got into the spirit, producing cakes in red, white and blue to honour the team.
“Come on Les Bleus!,” shouted a fan with a French flag draped across his shoulders as he and a group of supporters made their way towards the Eiffel tower fan zone.
On the Champs Elysees, horns were blaring, tricolor flags waving and a group of fans jumped up and down on a red, white and blue car, blaring pro-France songs from a speaker.
“Yeah! We believe in a win. N’golo Kante, you’ll score. Grizou (Antoine Griezmann), you too. It’s the final guys, let’s do it!” screamed one man.
Along the Champs Elysees and at the Arc de Triomphe, French flags from the previous day’s Bastille celebrations where still fluttering as some fans walked along the tree-lined avenue.
“I hope for a win, that is it. And even if we don’t win, we’re going to party,” said Corrine who had travelled from northern France with a group of friends, all decked out in French colours.
Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Pascale Antonie and Clotaire Achi; editing by Luke Baker and Susan Fenton
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