Midnight in Delhi meant that it was 9 pm — St Petersburg time — at the Embassy of France on Wednesday, when the men in blue played Belgium in the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup 2018. “Tonight, this feels like home and we are one family,” said Chloe Emerian, with blue, white and red stripes on her cheeks. Emerian works for a French company in Delhi. The Embassy might be located in the Capital’s diplomatic enclave, Chanakyapuri, but, for the 500-strong crowd that included Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler, the hall, with the giant screen, was France. “When you are a foreigner, you do meet others from your country but, very rarely, so many at once are united by one reason,” said her friend, Lucile Frizzi.
From across Delhi, French expats arrived with partners and friend groups. Arthur Forec from Paris, who has been in India for two weeks, was accompanied by 10 others. “We have to be more efficient, show a bit more accuracy. If France wins this match, it’ll win the World Cup,” he said. The majority of the audience was standing, chugging beers, and shouting instructions to the players as they failed to score or succeeded in stopping Belgium in the first half. “I love watching Kylian Mbappé but I am here because I can meet so many people,” said Marie Blain.
Massive speakers conveyed the noise from Russia but, in the hall, the cheers rose and fell like Mexican waves, as viewers, with French flags pinned to their hair, tucked into pockets, pasted on foreheads and draped around shoulders, watched sharp moves and missed shots. The chant of Allez les blues (Let’s go blue team) erupted frequently from one corner and was carried across the hall. Then, in the 51st minute, Samuel Umtiti’s header gave France a goal. The cheers thundered to the high ceiling of the Embassy and drowned out the applause from the speakers. In the final minute, the screens showed fans dancing in the stands at St Petersburg Stadium. In the hall, the audience accompanied by bursting into La Marseillaise.
It was a sea of red, black and yellow, as about 150 people gathered at the Belgian Embassy in the Capital to support Belgium as they played neighbour France in the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup. Loyal supporters wore the colours proudly — for those who didn’t have the country jerseys, a black cape and red Fabindia kurta worked just as fine. Hopes were high for a Belgian win. Trivia and facts were parroted around over Belgian beer. “It was in 1986 that Belgium made it to the semis,” said a supporter with red, yellow and black war paint on his face. Then, Belgium had lost to Argentina (2-0), and both the goals were scored by Maradona.
As the game kicked off on Tuesday, every save by Koen Casteels, the goal keeper, was appreciated by resounding cheer in the screening hall. Every attempt to strike a goal was combined with an accompanying sound of expletives, cheers and loud encouragements. After half time, the tension was thick in the air. People were seated on the edge of their chairs, and in the 51st minute, a header by French defender Samuel Umtiti sealed Belgium’s fate. The loud gasp and despondent sighs, led the way for Belgium’s exit from the 21st FIFA World Cup. For Belgium, history repeated itself after 32 years. As France secured a place in their third ever World Cup final, crestfallen Belgian fans trudged out into the night. One such fan, on his exit placed a tiny Belgian flag by a window, and muttered, “maybe in the next one, just four years away.”