Inside France's World Cup ceremony: Didier Deschamps' men celebrate in style
PARIS, France -- The France players have only been talking about one thing during this international break: the ceremony with the World Cup trophy and sharing it with the fans on Sunday night.
The Nations League matches themselves -- a 0-0 draw with Germany away in Munich and a convincing 2-1 win at home over Netherlands -- took second place. What the World Cup winners were really looking forward to was the ceremony.
The players had felt robbed on July 16 when the party organised in Paris on their return home with the trophy was too short and didn't give them a chance to properly celebrate with the fans.
On Sunday, after the Netherlands match, it was the complete opposite: A magical union between players, staff, fans in the stadium and across the whole country as millions watched on TV and cheered from home. The feelgood factor was incredible and it will make this team even stronger.
Winning the 2018 World Cup will unite the players forever. They will always have great memories of the tournament itself, of lifting the trophy at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, but Sept. 9 will also be one of the greatest moments of their careers.
After the game, in the Stade de France dressing room, N'Golo Kante looked totally overwhelmed. Sat between Benjamin Pavard and Djibril Sidibe, the look on his face was one of shock. Having heard more than 80,000 people singing his song -- an adapted version of Joe Dassin's classic, 'Les Champs-Elysees' -- the Chelsea midfielder needed a few minutes to process the emotions.
And he wasn't the only one. All the players were astonished by what had just happened as the celebrations on the pitch after the game reached new heights. Didier Deschamps had been hugging and kissing his players all night and he continued in the dressing room. Taking time to talk to each of his beloved players personally, the coach's man management came to the fore. He has built his success on his proximity with his men and was delighted to share in their happiness.
Even the injured players -- goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda -- joined in. Having watched the game in the stands, it didn't take long for the pair to arrive in the dressing room to take their part in the revelry.
While some players had early planes to catch to travel back to their clubs, others stayed in Paris overnight to meet their families. For a select few, though, the celebrations were not done yet: Paul Pogba, Samuel Umtiti, Ousmane Dembele, Blaise Matuidi, Antoine Griezmann and a few others didn't sleep much on Sunday night. They danced the night away in a trendy night club near the Champs Elysees. It was the perfect way for them to end a very special day.
The character of the players helped France win the World Cup and Deschamps had wanted his stars to show it again in the two games against Germany and Netherlands.
"We are the World Champions and everyone will want to beat us now for the next four years," Deschamps told his squad last week.
He also made sure that, while they were preparing to celebrate their success, the next objectives were clear. Deschamps has his sights set on winning the Nations League in June and then Euro 2020 to cement a legacy. He will be very happy with what he saw as it was a week filled with positives.
Young PSG goalkeeper Alphonse Areola showed he is good enough for international level; Olivier Giroud finally scored again (the winner), after 10 games in a row without finding the back of the net; Pogba proved that he has really turned a corner in his development by showing even more maturity and composure than his did during the World Cup.
The spine of the side is incredibly strong. "Kante-mania" has taken over France and the softly spoken star has become unquestionably the best defensive midfielder in the world. And that's before mentioning the World Cup's gem, Kylian Mbappe. The forward is still only 19 but is so good already that the media are running out of words to describe him, though his technical understanding with Griezmann is even getting better.
France can't do much wrong at the moment. They rightly enjoyed their party and when the dust settles on the celebrations, they are well placed to mount a challenge for the next set of international honours. The team's spirit was on show on Sunday night and it may not be long before they have something else to enjoy.