PARIS - French football fans slumped in disappointment Sunday after their team fell at the final hurdle on home soil, losing in extra-time to Portugal in Euro 2016. In the fan zone at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, 90,000 supporters went silent as Eder scored the goal that crushed the hopes of the host nation.
Many of the fans, clad in blue France shirts and with the tricolore draped around their shoulders, sat down before filing out in near-silence as the host nation's party fell flat. "With everything that has happened, the attacks, the demonstrations, the economic crisis, we deserved something to make us feel better," said Lazaro de Santana, 31. "Basta, finished, one goal, we're going home," said Gerard Le Fur, who watched the match at a bar in central Paris.
"The French are disappointed that they didn't win, especially since they organised the event," said another punter, Salhi Abdesslem. But despair for France meant joy for Paris' sizeable Portuguese population, who sounded car horns in celebration. Maria Martins could not contain her joy, shouting over the crowd at her bar in northwestern Paris. "I'm so happy after so many times that we lost," she said, adding: "But I still love France." France had won their last 10 meetings with the Portuguese since going down 2-0 in a friendly back in 1975, and their head-to-head record includes victories in all three clashes at major competitions. There are 1.2 million Portuguese people or people of Portuguese origin living in France, including 600,000 in the Paris region alone.
The Portuguese fans formed a sea of red at the Stade de France national stadium on Sunday.
Victory would have been a big shot in the arm for France after the jihadist attacks of last November that claimed 130 lives. "We would have put all that aside," said Elliot Fromentin, 20, tears in his eyes.
Victory would have been "good for France after the attacks to have revenge against the Islamists and all the lows we've had recently," said 18-year-old barmaid Shanel Aoudi. But it was the game that counted for 20-year-old Jules Inisun. "You don't know what's going to happen. That's the beauty of football," he said.
More than 3,000 police had been on duty on the Champs Elysees avenue where tens of thousands had been expected to gather to celebrate victory. But the party never happened, as people melted away into the night. Earlier, police fired tear gas during clashes with a group of supporters who were denied entry to the fan zone.
The clashes took place outside the fan zone, which was closed before kick-off after reaching its capacity. The base of the Eiffel Tower was engulfed in clouds of tear gas as riot police repelled the youths, who started fires on the pavement and threw bottles at the police lines, AFP photographers said.