‘Les Bleus’ make their fans nervous

The last time George Aknin saw a soccer match at Café Bastille, he lost his voice and his watch in the frenzy of France’s World Cup title game win in 1998.

It was admittedly a terrific trade for the Marseilles native, who came back to this Financial District bar and bistro Friday afternoon in search of similar luck. Les Bleus needed to topple Togo by at least two goals to assure they would advance to the knockout round of this World Cup and Aknin stood outside smoking anxiously before the start of the match.

“I’m a bit nervous,” the 30-year San Francisco resident said. “But it’s great to watch with others. This brings us all together. Finally,we’re uniting for something great.”

There was definitely a distinct Gallic feel in the restaurant, as a kiss on each cheek was the greeting, two French flags hung by the television and Zinedine Zidane’s No. 10 jersey was the clothing of choice.

But in the first half, the uneasy energy amongst the 200-plus fans who filled both levels and the front patio of the restaurant was apparent, as Les Bleus constantly put pressure on the Togo net but were unable to score. Grumbles, groans and gasps in French echoed throughout as opportunity after opportunity was wasted.

But relief came soon after halftime, when Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry scored within six minutes of one another to advance the French out of the group stage with a 2-0 victory and allowed the patrons to festively enjoy the rest of their meals and wine.

“They looked great,” Los Altos’ Jon Heyman said. “They’re always so exact with their passing.”

French football is certainly good for business for Olivier Azancot, Café Bastille’s owner.

“It’s Friday, it’s sunny and France was playing and won,” he said. “Perfect.”

For Aknin, Friday was a chance to celebrate many of the same players who helped win that 1998 final over Brazil. Most are now considered past their prime, but will try to add to their legacy Tuesday against Spain.

“You know, we started saying ‘Allez les vieux [Let’s go old people]’ instead of our usual chant ‘Allez Les Bleus’ because of the age of the players,” Aknin said. “But maybe we’ll have to hold off on that one for a while.”

melliser@examiner.com

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