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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prague Hit By Wave of 'Velvet' Joy

PRAGUE -- Tens of thousands of Czechs, in a scene recalling 1989's "Velvet Revolution," converged on Wenceslas Square to celebrate their country's soccer team reaching the Euro 96 final.


Minutes after the Czechs surprisingly beat France 6-5 in Wednesday's semifinal penalty shoot-out, Prague's streets flooded with flag-waving, horn-blowing fans aiming to celebrate around the statue of national patron St. Wenceslas.


"If you're not jumping, you're not Czech," they sang, bouncing in unison, as Prague's ever-present foreign tourists recorded the scene on camcorders.


Not since the citizen-led bloodless coup which ended 40 years of communism have the city's honed-brick boulevards given themselves up to such an outpouring of national pride. The summer celebration recalled those icy scenes in November 1989 -- the night the central party committee called it quits. Champagne exploded, tear-filled lovers embraced, boys climbed to the top of the saint, flags in hand.


"This is joy, pure joy," said one fan whose son's pram was embellished with the national flag. "Look around. [It's] just like in '89. It's unbelievable."


For the Czechs, many of whom believe their country was cheated out of five decades under Nazi occupation and then communism, the chance to beat Europe's biggest powers for the continent's most coveted trophy is special.


"This is important for the self-confidence of every Czech," said Tomas Zikmund with his 8-year-old son draped over his shoulders.


Meanwhile, Czech coalition leaders put penalties before politics, turning up late for key talks on forming a new government so they could watch the game.


Party leaders scheduled the latest round of the seemingly endless party negotiations for 7:30 p.m. when everybody thought the game would end. But when the match dragged on into a penalty shoot-out, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and his coalition partners put sport before affairs, rescheduling the meet.