SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — France and Portugal fans from as far afield as Switzerland and the South Pacific gathered Sunday at the Stade de France stadium or took in the sights in Paris as they prepared to watch their teams meet in the European Championship final.
Fans mingled peacefully outside the stadium amid tight security in a city still on high terror alert in the aftermath of Nov. 13 attacks by Islamic extremists that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured. That night of bloodshed started when three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Stade de France.
Hours before kickoff, a long line of police vans was parked alongside the main road near a metro station and officers in body armor stood outside a high fence ringing the stadium.
Mathias Vicherat, the Paris mayor’s chief of staff, said some 1,900 police and other security officers would patrol the 92,000-capacity fan zone in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. The city’s police chief, Michel Cadot, said 3,400 officers would patrol the Champs-Elysees, where fans are expected to mass after the match.
Jean-Paul Ausu left the palm-fringed beaches of New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific, and flew 22,000 kilometers (13,670 miles) to be in France for the tournament.
He still wasn’t sure he’d make it into the game.
“We tried to find tickets but haven’t been able to find any,” Ausu said. “We’re trying now to see what we can do at the (French Football) Federation’s sales point, but we’re still waiting.”
Portugal fans Mickael and Anna Polo-Carvalho, had a much shorter trip to get to the match – driving a few hundred kilometers (miles) from their home in Switzerland – and were planning to motor back again after the match.
“We found tickets at the very last minute. We thought, let’s drop off the kids at their grandparents and we hit the road. It all went fine,” Anna Polo-Carvalho said. “When we got here, we visited the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysees and we started preparing ourselves psychologically for this match. We’ll see who wins but we hope it’s Portugal. Tonight, it’s straight to the car and back at work tomorrow morning at nine.”
Long before the final, Laura Bounineau knew she would be a winner come the final whistle.
“My dad is French, my mother Portuguese, so I’m supporting both nations and proud of it,” she said. “There’s no problem: I will be happy tonight no matter what.”