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Being at France’s World Cup opener was magic

Neither FIFA incompetence nor gray weather could get in the way of a brilliant night at Parc des Princes.

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On the morning of the opening game of the 2019 World Cup, with France due to take on South Korea at Parc des Princes, a cold, unappealing greyness settled over Paris. A drizzle came in frantic bursts, the wind whipping a hefty sprinkle into your face before dying off. The sun kept peeking out, then disappearing again in a cruel pattern of promise and rejection.

For all that, the crowds lined up early around Parc des Princes. Despite multiple ticketing problems, the stadium was nearly full just after kickoff, though some French fans were stuck outside during La Marseillaise.

The ticketing situation was more of a damper on the day than the weather. Thanks to FIFA’s original ticketing snafu, when scores of fans had their seats separated despite buying them in bundles, new tickets were issued, but many fans didn’t realize they had to reprint, resulting in confusion, congestion, and no small amount of consternation as lines backed up.

Stephanie Yang

It was the same for the media accreditation process. Thankfully, I went to the stadium some four or five hours before kickoff instead of closer to the 90-minute deadline FIFA gives to pick up credentials. I can’t imagine the growing panic that surely would have consumed me as I attempted to find the accreditation office, hidden away behind a parking lot and down a path. At one point along the route, the signage suggested that the office was on both sides of a chain link fence.

And there were certainly media members. At one point they were lined up probably 18 yards deep from the door, with more inside going through security, more in the downstairs press room, and yet more crushed together in the upstairs press area. That helped make up for the panic, seeing so many reporters pack the Parc des Princes press room that you could hardly slip through them without turning sideways.

And then the game. Oh, the game. Even with people stuck outside, the stadium sounded like it was at capacity from the sheer noise. I kept craning my head, which nearly led to my demise at Parc des Princes, where the steps are cast in steep concrete at sometimes uneven heights. This was a French home crowd and they wanted everyone to know. The opening ceremony was light, fun, and brief. As a pleasant surprise, Australian international Kyah Simon was sitting behind me, doing interviews.

Even better: La Marseillaise was loud enough for those stuck outside the stadium to sing along, making the most out of missing the national anthem at the opening game of a World Cup in their home country.

It was obvious from the first ten minutes that France was going to take Korea for a ride, and the game was magnetic even still. France played like they were making a statement. You come to our country and think you’re going to win our World Cup? They said Non four times, and after each goal a devastating wall of sound crushed the Koreans as French fans lost it.

The sound — how to get the sound across? Even though it apparently came through nice and loud on television broadcasts, there’s no substitute for being in the midst of a home crowd in love with the home team absolutely pouring their adulation over the stands. The vibrations burrow inside of you and rattle your skeleton. It makes you feel connected to the people around you, and to the architecture of the stadium itself.

There was a moment in the second half, after daylight had finally begun to fade (it stays light late in Paris in June), that cell phones came out among the crowd, scattered throughout the bowls. It was clear by this time that Korea would not be making a comeback. It was cold and windy, and fans began rubbing their hands together briskly together and muttering Really? It’s this cold in June?

But the twinkling lights. They were a reminder that this game can be magical, and the World Cup is capital-R Romantic. The exciting new French allergies that had been swelling up my eyes and making my nose drip shirked away for 90 minutes and stoppage. The World Cup is the ultimate painkiller.

Until your team loses. But before that point -- and perhaps you’ll be one of the lucky fans whose team adds a star above their crest -- nothing matters except that you’re at a World Cup. France-Korea went by so fast that I was momentarily confused when the ref blew her whistle for halftime. Maybe as group progresses, there will be games that drag, or I’ll simply get tired. There will probably be even more FIFA-sponsored snafus (please don’t take my credentials, FIFA).

And it will all be worth it.