PARIS — It seemed that all of France was watching the coin toss between the French and Croatian men’s soccer team captains Sunday to decide who would get the opening kick of the 2018 World Cup final in Russia.
From the Champs Élysées to the low-income suburbs of Paris that many of the French team’s star players call home, the spectators included hopeful young children who dream of becoming soccer stars and older people who have watched a lifetime of games.
Perhaps nowhere was the excitement as palpable as in the hometowns of the players of France’s multiracial team, lauded by politicians and regular citizens alike as an example of the nation’s ability to overcome divisions in an increasingly diverse population.
“Once in a while, we are united, we are one country, one people,” said Linda Bourja, 41, who postponed her summer vacation in Brittany to watch the final in Bondy, a predominantly immigrant suburb outside Paris where 19-year-old soccer superstar Kylian Mbappé grew up.
“That doesn’t happen too often, true — it should happen more, true,” she added. “But today is a day for all of us, for Mbappé, for Bondy, for France, wherever we’re from.”
This is not just any game, or indeed any final, for France. It is a chance to redeem the nation’s losses to Portugal in the 2016 European Championship final and to Italy in the 2006 World Cup final. Both left French soccer fans, and many who just wanted France to have a win on the world stage, feeling that the team could never quite go all the way.
People flocked to bars and cafes Sunday, as well as to the 230 “fan zones” across France, some with more than a half-dozen giant screens showing the game. The one on the Champ de Mars in Paris, at the base of the Eiffel Tower, accommodates 90,000 people.
Set up in small towns as well as the larger cities of Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, the zones are a way for almost anyone to have a free seat to view the game, even if they could never afford to attend one in person.
Before the match even started, the sounds of chanting and singing, including the national anthem, as well as drums, fog horns and firecrackers rang in streets across the country.
In Marseille, fans gathered on the Vieux-Port, the Mediterranean city’s natural harbor, while further inland, in Aix-en-Provence, the usually tranquil Cours Mirabeau was packed with supporters wearing blue, white and red. In Lyon, fans flooded the central Place Bellecour, even as a rainstorm threatened to dampen the city.
With vacation season in full swing, holiday-goers at campsites and rental homes on the French Riviera crowded around televisions to catch the game. In Paris, which usually starts to empty at this time of year, the streets were unusually crowded, with flag-bearing families and giddy teenagers who were finally done with the dreaded baccalaureate exam.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times