Few things in this world can bring people together like sport.
[ MORE: Deschamps, Lloris speak ]
On Tuesday at Wembley Stadium, just four days after 129 people were killed in several terrorist attacks in Paris, the French national team will play against England in London in a show of defiance.
In the eyes of the French national team: the show must go on.
Speaking at Wembley Stadium for the first time publicly since the attacks, manager of the French national team Didier Deschamps and team captain Hugo Lloris spoke of how the decision by the French Football Federation to not cancel the game will send out a message.
“Sport in general and in particular football, which is the most popular worldwide, has always been a symbol and represents important values. After these events, these values are even more important,” Deschamps said. “Those present on the field of sport tomorrow night have a duty of representing and symbolizing the values of sport. Throughout my career as a coach, football has always had an important function in everyday life. Globally, it has a strong role in society. Sport and football is a way of life in many nations. It is a strong symbol and players can give a great example and be role models on how to behave. The key, to my eye, is that we have the chance to represent those beautiful colors of blue, white and red and we will do that with pride.”
Well over 80,000 fans are expected at Wembley — the FA have revealed that ticket sales have actually increased over the weekend as fans want to show support for France — in what is a high-profile fixture between neighboring countries who have always been great rivals on and off the pitch. All of that now goes to one side. It is not about the game, it is rather about an occasion which represents solidarity, unity and a collective belief that the terrorists who seek to attack the very fabrics of not only French society but those of nations across the globe, will not succeed.
This act of defiance from the French national team in the face of mourning is remarkable. Lassana Diarra, who started in central midfield for France in Paris on Friday, lost his cousin Asta Diakite in the attacks. Striker Antoine Griezmann’s sister was caught up in the attack on the Bataclan but escaped unharmed. This tragedy has closely touched this team but they were adamant that the game must be played.
The game will be beamed across the world as everyone will see how powerful sport can be in times of tragedy. Following the attacks three days of mourning were declared in France by President Francois Hollande as well as a state of emergency. On the fourth day after the attacks, France will play England and the occasion will act as a small way of helping to heal the wounds of a nation in deep sorrow.
“We have been together and talked together as a group, it has been dramatic few days and very hard,” Lloris said. “We have been trying to keep focused and while at Clairefontaine trying to keep up with the news. We are now trying to focus our minds on doing the job on the field; to play for our country and play for the victims… Tomorrow will be a great moment of solidarity. I think the president made the best decision to play this game. It will be an opportunity to show character through that game and allow us to share this moment with all the English people.”
The fact that England are France’s opponents and the game will be played in London is poignant. Both nations and aforementioned cities have been targets for terrorist attacks in Europe over the last decade. In many ways London and Paris mirror one another and the fact that 13 of France’s 23-man squad either currently play or have played for English teams means the bond they have to the nation is strong. Many of these French players will feel at home in England, playing against current or former teammates who represent the English national team.
“The horrific atrocities perpetrated in Paris on Friday were an attack on our very way of life, our freedom, our democracy,” Mayor of London Boris Johnson said. “Of course we can never be complacent, and tomorrow’s game will be policed appropriately, but I can’t think of a better riposte to this ideology of hate than to carry on with our lives, our loves and our passions.”
With the famous Wembley arch lit in the red, white and blue of France, the country’s motto — Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite — emblazoned on the front of the home of soccer, plans for home fans to create a giant mosaic of the triclore before kick off and home fans urged by the English authorities to sing the French national anthem before kick off with the lyrics to La Marseillaise put on the big screens, the feeling of unity and solidarity will be strong.
“There will be a lot of emotion from the players but we are in London and people here are respectful,” Lloris, who is captain and goalkeeper for Tottenham Hotspur in London said. “It will be a great moment of solidarity. We have been touched by messages from all over the globe, particularly in England. I know the English very well from my time with Tottenham and I know they will help us to commemorate and do the right thing and support us before the game and we are very grateful for the messages. It’s important for us that for a group of players who will sing together and share that moment. It will be amazing if the England fans can sing the Marseillaise, and share in this moment.”
It is, of course, not only in England that this solidarity has shone through in the midst of tragedy. Throughout the soccer and sporting world over the past few days we have seen a huge show of support for the people of Paris and France to honor those who were killed. Teams across college football in the U.S., the NFL and numerous American sports showed their support and it wasn’t just in the sporting world either with famous landmarks across the world lit up in red, white and blue to show Parisians they are not on their own.
Germany, the nation France were playing last Friday when suicide bombers reportedly tried to get in the Stade de France before blowing themselves up outside the stadium and as other horrendous attacks were carried out across the French capital, will play their bitter rivals the Netherlands in a friendly in Hanover on Tuesday. Head coach of the German national team, Joachim Low, first of all thanked Deschamps and his team for staying with the German players in the depths of the Stade de France on Friday following the game. The visitors could not exit the stadium safely and stayed the night, united with the French players and staff as the tragedies unfolded.
“I think it was a great gesture by the French team and by Deschamps,” Low said. “They offered us to stay overnight in their hotel and that they would clear a number of rooms. They also waited until it was clear that we would fly directly to Germany.”
There was some trepidation from the German players, when their team hotel in Paris was subject of a bomb scare earlier on Friday but it turned out to be a hoax, about playing the Netherlands on Tuesday but Low summed up the defiant mood.
“After sleeping on it, it was clear to us that the match must take place,” Low said. “The match has a clear message for freedom and democracy but also for solidarity with France. Our thoughts tomorrow will be with the victims and their families… I hope that the sporting rivalry between Germany and the Netherlands will now take a backseat and the match will now take on another valuation. I’m of the opinion that if we understand the meaning of the match, we have won. No matter what the result will be.”
In terms of the role the home team will play at Wembley on Tuesday, manager Roy Hodgson, captain Wayne Rooney and English FA chief executive officer Martin Glenn spoke to the media on Monday and emphasized the magnitude of the occasion.
“I understand fully that the French authorities had a very clear opinion on the topic and they wanted the game to go ahead so for us it was very easy to go along with that. As a result we will do our best to make a really good game of it but we can’t deny the seriousness of the occasion,” Hodgson said. “We can’t deny that this game is special. It is not a normal friendly because it is occurring four days after this unbelievable terror attack and unfortunately that is going to be lingering over everybody whether we like it or not.”
That notion of the world standing tall and uniting for France in its time of need once again appeared.
“I think globally football does a lot for the world,” Rooney said. “It shows that everyone as a unit, the world as one and football has the power to do that. The world of football has to stay strong together. I am sure everyone will do that and deal with the situation as best as us as players, the fans, know how to do. I am sure football will help bring people together.”
“The global nature of the game is really important,” Glenn added. “It was important that the French authorities wanted to do it. The match tomorrow is going to have massive global significance. It is the first big event that has happened since the tragedy of last Friday. I think it is important for us to be totally supportive of them and do something great together to demonstrate that terrorism can’t win. The eyes of the world are going to be on Wembley tomorrow, not just the French and English people.”
Deschamps was defiant as he prepares to lead his team against England with the world watching on, just four days after the stadium he and his team last played in was targeted by terrorists.
“We are here now to take to the field to represent our country. With even more pride than we normally would and make sure the blue, white and red are proudly represented by the players on the field,” Deschamps said. “It is the very first time a stadium, football players and supporters have been a target for a terrorist attack. But sport has a way of uniting people, sport is the very representation of economic and social life; everyday life. I have always said that it is a huge source of pride for me to represent my country in sport and that has become even more important now. Sport represents a union of diversity and diversity coming together.”