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Taking it to the streets

Paris is organising a major celebration before the finals begin.

Just under 24 hours before the World Cup kicks off on Wednesday, Paris will stage a massive public launch party culminating in a celebratory event in the Place de la Concorde.

Breaking from tradition, the ceremony will focus on Paris itself, rather than on the Stade de France where the opening match between Scotland and Brazil takes place.

The celebration involves a huge street parade and the bizarre spectacle of four specially made giants - each 20m tall - striding through the streets from the Eiffel Tower, the Pont Neuf, the Opra Garnier and the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. There, an expected 80,000 people will attend a free concert.

'We want the World Cup in France to be more than simply a sports competition,' says French football hero and co-chairman of the World Cup organising committee Michel Platini. 'We want France 98 to be a popular and festive event that everyone can take part in.'

Central to this massive carnival finale will be the square's Cleopatra's Needle obelisk which is to be wrapped in cladding shaped like a giant golden replica of the World Cup trophy.

The £5M event, 'La Fte du Football' has taken two years to organise and will involve 4,500 actors, extras and athletes and the construction of 10,000m2 of temporary structures.

Routes were chosen according to street widths and bridge loadings and traffic islands have been demolished to make way for the processions. The parade from the Eiffel Tower is expected to be particularly tortuous with the giant having to make a number of sharp right and left hand turns.

As a result, workers have taken down 72 street lights and have rotated others through 90 to stop them being damaged.

Crowd safety considerations mean that, although free, access to the Place de la Concorde will be by ticket only during the celebrations. French authorities hope that this should prevent the square from overcrowding.

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