German town gets a case of the Bleus
Even the sky was tearful as the inhabitants of a small village near Hameln turned out to bid a bitter-sweet farewell to the France squad after their final training session on Friday.
The volunteers from the media centre were among the many locals who ignored the driving rain to come out and wish Raymond Domenech and his players goodbye and, of course, good luck.
Before setting off for Berlin and their date with destiny, Les Bleus had wanted to say a last goodbye to the people of Aerzen, a village some five miles outside Hameln where the French squad had held most of their training sessions since arriving in Germany on 8 June. The French delegation duly provided 100 free tickets for locals to come and watch their final practice.
"It's a really sad day for us," said Hameln media centre volunteer Anna. "I had never worked with the media or indeed in football before, and this has been a unique experience for me almost a dream come true."
For fellow volunteer Jan, a mathematician by trade, the last month will live on long in the memory. "It's tough to pick out my favourite moment after such an intense period of time. We quite often used to bump into the players, and they were always very friendly and happy to chat to us. It's a real shame that they have to go now," he said, carefully packing away the photos which he had taken of Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram to protect them from the rain.
The eight media centre workers have one particularly special memory. "In the Round of 16 against Spain, the French Football Federation invited us up to Hanover, and we all went up together on the train. We dressed up in French jerseys and painted our faces, and then we sang and cheered them on to victory. Everyone thought that we were actually French!" explained Jan with a broad grin.
Only five of the volunteers could make it to the final training session, but all eight of them have vowed to meet up on Sunday for the Final. "After all, we've watched all the matches together so far," said Jan.
While he was originally worried that France would meet Germany in the 9 July showdown ("I wouldn't have known who to support"), there is no doubt about which team he and his colleagues will now be supporting. "France will be world champions," they said in unison, flashing the bleu-blanc-rouge wristbands which they have all made.
Whatever the outcome of
Sunday's Final in Berlin, France can go home knowing that they have made many new friends along the way.