It was one of those picture-postcard afternoons in Paris yesterday. A cool breeze accompanied bright sunlight across the boulevards, suggesting a perfect day to roam along the banks of the Seine or take in some of the city's innumerable attractions. The kind of afternoon, in fact, that must have had the organisers of a Futsal event within the confines of the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy fearing the worst.
Such fears would have been misplaced, however, as all 13,000 seats inside the large Parisian arena were safely filled before the festivities began at 15.00. "It's a magnificent reward for my players," explained French national Futsal coach Pierre Jacky. "You mustn't forget that they're amateurs and they have to make professional or family sacrifices every time the national side gets together."
With that in mind, his charges will surely have appreciated the warm atmosphere as they took on a number of star names from Ligue 1 outfit Paris Saint-Germain, who remain as popular as ever in the capital despite dicing with relegation. "I expected us to let in five goals and hear whistles from the crowd," noted PSG goalkeeper Jerome Alonzo. "Instead, we got a lot of support and managed to win (3-2). Given it was siesta time on a Sunday, I can't complain!" The former Nice and Saint-Etienne custodian also admitted to getting a personal kick out of the proceedings. "It hurts like nobody's business to dive but it's great fun," he said. "I've often been told I play like a handball goalkeeper, so today was ideal for me."
Soon after, a wave of camera flashes and rousing applause from the stands signalled the event that many had been waiting for. It was time for the Club of French Internationals (CIF) - an association comprising ex-players such as Jean-Pierre Papin, Manuel Amoros and Bruno Bellone - to test their mettle against a side representing the France 98 charity.
Having emerged triumphant at the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™, the side that featured such local heroes as Zinedine Zidane , Didier Deschamps, Laurent Blanc and Marcel Desailly decided to start an association that would help them serve various causes while expressing their love for the game. And under the watchful eye of still-active former team-mates Lilian Thuram and Thierry Henry, the darlings of the crowd saw off their glorious predecessors with ease, completing a 5-0 victory. That said, the clapometer suggested a tie for the popularity prize, shared between Zidane's classy pirouettes, Youri Djorkaeff's goals and the enthusiastic gyrations of the cheerleaders.
First and foremost, however, the convivial nature of the day's events allowed the fans in attendance to see their much-beloved number ten 'Zizou' in a new light. The man himself was in playful mood too. "I'm not used to competing in top-level games any more," he confessed. "Still, if you compare my performance with Didier (Deschamps)'s, I don't think I did too badly. The coach even told him: 'Captain or not, if you don't run a little I'm taking you off'."
Despite that excitement, the day would not have been complete without a match between two colourful teams of celebrities and a victory for the France Futsal team. Comfortable 8-2 winners over the CIF, the Futsal specialists took advantage of the fact that all five hours of action were broadcast live on French television to promote their discipline. "We couldn't end this tournament having lost two games," France captain Stephane Basson told FIFA.com afterwards. "Of course, this day was mostly about having fun, but it was also about letting the French public know what we do."
Among the watching public, the eyes of the many youngsters at Bercy then shone one last time as the France 98 team took on PSG. For 11-year-old Kevin, the hardest choice was deciding which shirt to wear for the occasion: "In the end, I went with Les Bleus, but above all I'm a PSG supporter."
He, like everyone else, will have been thrilled to witness a few moments of individual brilliance from Zidane before the goal-scoring prowess of Pedro Pauleta allowed the capital outfit to secure a 5-5 draw. And having been present at such a fun-packed afternoon, Kevin, like many others, will surely come away with a burgeoning appreciation of French Futsal.