Heroes’ welcome for champs

France's Antoine Griezmann and team mates during the parade. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

The World Cup-winning French team returned home to a heroes’ welcome on Monday as hundreds of thousands packed the Champs Elysees for their victory parade.

France overcame a determined Croatia team to win 4-2 in Sunday’s final, with teenager Kylian Mbappe applying the coup de grace and cementing his place as a new global superstar at the age of just 19.

Millions of fans in France celebrated into the night, honking car horns and flying the tricolour flag while the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were lit up in the national colours of blue, white and red.

Crowds began converging early Monday on the Champs Elysees, the gathering point for all national celebrations, for a parade by the team atop a bus.

“We’re so proud of this team, they have truly become our players,” said Priscilla Lagneaux, 28, who was waiting with friends under a wilting sun on the avenue. “We had to see them, and also the Cup.”

The players arrived to a raucous welcome at Charles De Gaulle airport northeast of Paris, including a “water salute” by the fire brigade which sprayed arcs of water over the Air France jet as it taxied to the gate.

Captain Hugo Lloris, flanked by coach Didier Deschamps, was the first to emerge from the aircraft, raising the famed golden trophy before heading down the stairs and onto a freshly laid red carpet. Commentators have focused on the outpouring of patriotism and sense of national unity created by the multiethnic French team, many of whose stars including Mbappe and Paul Pogba hail from deprived and often overlooked suburbs of Paris.

Laurent Joffrin, editor of the leftwing Liberation newspaper, said they had lived up to the ideal of “the republic that we love: united and diverse, patriotic and open, national without being nationalist”.

After the parade France’s newest idols were welcomed at the Elysee Palace by Emmanuel Macron.

“We’re going to say thank you!” said Sacha, one of the young players already at the palace. “I don’t regret not going on vacation this summer.”

Macron had already celebrated with the team on Sunday -- even doing “dab” dance moves with players in a video that has gone viral -- after attending the final in Moscow.

Analysts believe the 40-year-old centrist will benefit from the feel-good factor sweeping France, with Macron able to show a common touch after months of criticism from his opponents that he is distant and elitist.

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