Olivier Giroud ended his international goal drought with the winner as France beat the Netherlands 2-1 on Sunday in their first match on home soil since lifting the World Cup in July.
Giroud swept in a Benjamin Mendy cross in the 75th minute for his first goal in 11 games in a France shirt, after the Chelsea striker went through the entirety of his country’s triumphant campaign in Russia without finding the net.
Kylian Mbappe had earlier put France ahead in an explosive performance from the 19-year-old, before Ryan Babel briefly restored parity in the second half.
The Stade de France exploded in celebration at Giroud’s winner in a game that had a competitive edge as part of UEFA’s new Nations League.
However, this match on a balmy evening was really just a prelude to World Cup victory celebrations on the pitch in front of almost 80,000 fans at the national stadium after the final whistle.
The French team and their supporters saw this occasion as the opportunity to make up for the lack of a memorable public celebration in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup triumph in Russia.
The day after beating Croatia 4-2 in July’s final in Moscow, Les Bleus paraded hurriedly down the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris en route to a reception hosted by President Emmanuel Macron.
The rushed nature of the celebrations disappointed the estimated 300,000 fans who took to the streets that evening, and this time the French Football Federation ensured their victorious squad were presented one by one to supporters after the final whistle.
The World Cup trophy was shown off as well, at the stadium where France first won it in 1998.
The France starting line-up was the same as that in Thursday’s 0-0 draw with Germany in Munich, meaning the only change from the World Cup final was in goal, with Alphonse Areola replacing the injured Hugo Lloris.
– Spine-tingling –
The teams were greeted by an enormous banner that read ‘world champions’ and covered the entirety of the pitch, before a spine-tingling version of the French national anthem.
That added to the sense of occasion, and Didier Deschamps’ side then set out with an intensity and an urgency almost unlike anything seen in Russia.
Mbappe forced a good save from Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen inside 50 seconds, and his performance here showed why he is tipped as a future Ballon d’Or winner.
The brilliant 19-year-old got the breakthrough in the 14th minute as he turned in a ball driven across the box by Blaise Matuidi for his eighth international goal in 2018.
The hosts looked in complete control against a Dutch side rebuilding under Ronald Koeman after failing to qualify for Euro 2016 or this year’s World Cup.
It took the visitors 66 minutes to seriously threaten, as Georginio Wijnaldum found himself in behind the defence only to drag his shot wide.
But the Dutch were level just a minute after that, Kenny Tete delivering a low cross from the right for Babel — unmissable with his hair dyed red – to convert.
Giroud got the winner though, his 32nd for his country seeing him move one clear of Zinedine Zidane’s tally in a France shirt.
After their draw in Germany, France are firmly in control in the three-team Group 1 of League A in the Nations League, with the group winners going through to a four-team final tournament next June.
But for them the evening was always about the post-game festivities first and foremost.