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Monday, 3 July, 2000, 01:16 GMT 02:16 UK banner
Europe belongs to Les Bleus
Rotterdam fountain
French fans wallow in their victory in a Rotterdam fountain
After a marathon trip around the Low Countries our man at Euro 2000, Pete Lansley, signs off from Rotterdam in dramatic fashion.

French fans nearly losing their heads on the final whistle of their operatic Euro 2000 triumph proclaimed the feeling better than winning the World Cup.

Olivier and Fabrice, from Normandy, confessed they thought their double dream was over as the Italians' game plan stymied their heroes' efforts.

But as they drew breath seconds after David Trezeguet's golden goal - France's second in successive matches after Zinedine Zidane's against Portugal - the young French fans managed to offer a perspective on their emotions.

"When the first goal of the match was scored I thought it was all finished," said Olivier, "because when the Italian team scores a goal in the second half, I think we cannot come back."

Party time in Paris
Party time in Paris
The world champions have displayed a resilience this tournament which has produced some breathtaking theatre: surviving Raul's last-gasp penalty miss in last Sunday's quarter-final win over Spain; coming back from behind to win their semi-final with Zidane's golden penalty after Portuguese protestations held him up for four minutes; and now, in the fourth minute of stoppage time of the final, taking the Italians into extra-time through Sylvain Wiltford's equaliser.

The rest was hysteria.

"It's fantastic," said Olivier, "better than the world championship because in this tournament there's so much surprise and emotion to our games.

"Today we are so happy."

In a moment of Gallic nonchalance, however, Olivier refused to accept Wiltford's goal as the best he has witnessed in his life.

"I remember Christophe Dugarry's for Bordeaux against Milan about four years ago," he said. "It was the same emotion."

With the French lads was their Belgian friend Fred.

"I met these guys at Euro 96 in England," said Fred.

"France thoroughly deserved to win this tournament, even if Italy played their best game of the competition tonight and probably deserved to win this particular game.

"But the luck the French had in the quarter-final, the semi-final and the final actually proved they are a great team because when their chance comes, they don't let it go.

Arc de Triomphe
All hung up beside the Arc de Triomphe
"Being Belgian, I'd generally be against France but because of the way Italy played for the whole tournament, I was wishing good football was to be the winner.

"That's why I'm happy for France, and for my friends."

Olivier was already deferring his scheduled 8am plane back home. "It's an open ticket," he grinned as the French fans danced on their seats.

"Champione" blasted out from the tannoy, a golden spume of glitter paper spraying up behind Didier Deschamps as he ended his international career by lifting the trophy above his head.

White-shirted Italians sat on the Rotterdam turf, their dismay exacerbated by just how close they had been to a triumphal final whistle.

Not only had they sagged into extra-time but then, almost inevitably, their misfortune turned into misery as France twisted home the knife.

Italian supporters walked towards the exits glazed in disbelief.

Neutral Dutchmen po-goed in celebration of a footballing victory, exhilarated by a certain amount of consolation that their semi-final victors had foundered.

And the French swirled their scarves above their heads, joy unconfined as they became the first World Cup holders to walk off with the European Championship.

Back in Amsterdam, the ghost of a party that might have been saw the shutters falling promptly at 1pm, occasional revellers being moved on prosaically, the rain starting to fall.

Holland by the end was no longer orange.

Europe belonged to Les Bleus.

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See also:

01 Jul 00 | Fans Guide
Les Bleus: 1-0 up
01 Jul 00 | Fans Guide
Forza Italia!
29 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
Standing tall in the Low Countries
29 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
Dignity in defeat?
25 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
No party-poopers here
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