Tension As Party Goes Flat On Champs Elysees

Barnaby Chesterman, AFP, July 10, 2006

Paris—First there was hope and expectation, then there was undiluted joy, a reality check, exasperation, despair and finally deflation—that was the Champs Elysees during the World Cup final.

What was supposed to be a great swansong for a player rightly lauded as the greatest of his generation, ended in disgrace for French star Zinedine Zidane.

And his hoards of loyal fans looked on in disbelief as they watched their talisman head-butt his way—the victim being Marco Materazzi—into an inglorious but dramatic retirement—more Eric Cantona than Zizou.

The wild party expected to go on late into the night never took off, the millions expected to emerge never did.

The only happy people, barring pockets of celebrating Italians, seemed to be those for whom the result bore little consequence to their reason for hitting the Champs—trouble.

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Crowds of blue shirted people headed one way while gangs of rowdy young men headed the other.

Youths waving flags—not French or Italian but Algerian and Turkish—ran around shouting and cheering.

A couple of groups of people drummed away making music, mostly it seemed to get their faces on television. Crews of cameramen and journalists quickly sparked high spirits and encouraged cheering happy faces.

But there was also a sinister side lurking in the shadows.

Other than around the Arc itself, the crowds were hardly heaving but young men loitered in darkened pockets of the Champs, just yards away from riot police.

Up by the Arc itself was the biggest police presence and it did not take long for the first baton charge to be launched.

Hundreds of young men, clearly angling for trouble, squeezed in and around the Arc. A flare was thrown into the crowd of people, the police braced themselves and the fleeing began, swiftly followed by a charge.

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