Behind-the-scenes on emotional night at Wembley for England-France


LONDON — Walking up Wembley Way on a cool, windy November night in London, the humongous arch which hangs over Wembley Stadium was lit up in the red, white and blue of France.

[ MORE: France react to “special” night ]

The tricolore shone brightly and hung over the entire stadium to remind the fans, players and everybody else in the stadium why we were all at this particular friendly match between England and France.

It was all about honoring the 129 people killed by terrorists in Paris last Friday. About standing together and uniting as one.

Over the past few days I’ve found myself wandering around my house in London humming the French national anthem. Full disclosure, I’ve always been a big fan of La Marseillaise even though I don’t speak French and don’t know what the words of the anthem mean. I’ve often thought when watching it being played before sporting events: “Man, I’m not French but hearing that fires me up.” The English national anthem and others is a little more somber but the French anthem is anything but. At Wembley everyone — the home fans were urged to sing the anthem with the lyrics on the big screens and English newspapers publishing the lyrics on the back pages — got to belt out the famous anthem as one.

Its result, as I’m sure you will agree from the video below, was spectacular.

A few weeks ago I circled Nov. 17 on my calendar: England hosting France at Wembley Stadium. I’ve been looking forward to attending this game for quite some time. It was a chance to see two nations square off who are littered with world-class talent but haven’t faced many tests over the past 12 months due to the fact France automatically qualified for EURO 2016 as hosts and England’s qualifying group was ridiculously weak as they won every single game. This was a chance to see where both teams were at seven months before the European Championships in France began. Then the atrocities occurred in Paris and this game, which was in severe doubt of taking place, took on a whole new meaning.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Armed Police Officers stand outside Wembley Stadium ahead of tonight's International friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

As it became clear that the French Football Federation wanted it to be played, a swell of emotion and pride arrived throughout both nations. I imagined the sight of French and English fans all coming together as one at Wembley, the home of soccer, to show solidarity and prove to those who carried out the attacks in Paris that they will not win. That was exactly the case on Tuesday. Armed police were deployed by the British government and when another high-profile friendly in Europe, Belgium vs. Spain, was abandoned on Monday due to safety fears the anxiety levels around this game grew a little. But, as I’ve heard many people all over the world say in the past four days: “we can’t live in fear.”

<> at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England.

Jumping onto the tube to make the 30-minute journey from my home across London, there was a sense of calm until you got close to stadium.

Walking out of Wembley Park station, Wembley Way was ahead of me and the glistening gladiatorial stadium at the end was a majestic sight to behold decked out in the red, white and blue and the French motto “Liberte, egalite, fraternite” emblazoned across the outside of the venue. The home of the world’s game was ready to show the watching world that not only England and France stood as one against terrorism, but so did the entire planet. A crowd of over 71,000 filled Wembley as English FA officials revealed that only 100 tickets were returned and ticket sales had unexpectedly soared over the weekend with fans wanting to attend the game, a spectacle and occasion which had now become something bigger than a friendly between England and France.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: French fans pose for photos holding a french flag with the Wembley arch lit up in french colours in the background as they arrive ahead of tonight's International friendly match between England and France on November 17, 2015 in London, England. Security in London has tightened after a series of terror attacks across the French capital of Paris on Friday, leaving at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Armed police, something pretty uncommon to see in England, lined Wembley Way and patrolled the side-streets leading up to the stadium. Police helicopters hovered overhead and fans mixed with one another. England fans whistled La Marseillaise and broke out chants of “allez les bleus” as they walked along with their friends, while groups of French supporters also broke out in song.

Inside the stadium, the press room was awash with camaraderie as journalists from across the globe, but chiefly England and France, chatted about the terrible events of last Friday. Soon, the mood turned slightly sour. TVs in the press lounge showed scenes from Hanover as police evacuated the stadium and Germany’s friendly vs. Holland was canceled due to a reported suspicious package at the stadium. After Belgium vs. Spain was canceled the day before, nerves were in the air around Wembley. Fans inside the stadium, overall, seemed to still be in a jovial yet thoughtful mood as they posed for photos with one another before kick off.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Both teams stand together for a moment of applause prior to the International Friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

In attendance at Wembley where British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the head of the English FA the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William. They led the proceedings before the game along with Roy Hodgson, Didier Deschamps and the heads of the FA and FFF by laying floral tributes for the victims. As the players stood and awaited the French national anthem England’s fans lifted a tricolore mosaic to create a marvelously patriotic scene and a home away from home for the French players. Then, the moment which would help symbolize the togetherness of two neighboring nations: the anthem. La Marseillaise was simply majestic but what was equally, or more so in my eyes, moving was the impeccably observed minute silence as players from both teams gathered around the center circle. Wembley stood silent to remember those killed and it was a real lump in the throat moment.

The game itself was largely uneventful as France’s players looked understandably subdued and England’s largely second-string side impressed with teenager Dele Alli curling in a beauty and Wayne Rooney adding a second as the Three Lions won 2-0. A Mexican wave began in the 26th minute amid the friendly atmosphere as players of both teams helped one another up after falling down and plenty of hugs and high fives were on show. The respect from both sets of players was evident. Chants of “allez les bleus” came from the small contingent of French fans who also sporadically sung La Marseillaise.

Lassana Diarra, whose cousin Asta Diakite was killed in the attacks on Friday, came on as a second half sub and Wembley stood as one and applauded to salute his bravery in the face of personal tragedy.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: The words 'Liberte, Igalite, Fraternite' and the colours of the French flag adorn Wembley Stadium ahead of tonight's football match between England and France on November 17, 2015 in London, England. Security in London has tightened after a series of terror attacks across the French capital of Paris on Friday, leaving at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

The mood was somber, reflective and even the goal celebrations from England’s players were low-key. Respect for those lost in Paris was shown throughout the occasion and the English FA should be commended for the fine job they did to honor France’s fallen. After the final whistle France’s players looked relieved the game was over as they huddled together and saluted their fans at one end of the stadium. At that moment the England band began to play La Marseillaise for one final time as the French and English players walked off the pitch together and down the tunnel.

during the International Friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England.

It wasn’t about the game on Tuesday. It was about solidarity and how sport can play a small part in helping to heal a nation in a time of great tragedy.

Ronaldo matches record in 1,000th game as Juve beats Spal

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MILAN (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo shows no sign of slowing down as he marked his 1,000th official match by scoring a record-equaling goal to help Juventus win 2-1 at Spal in Serie A on Saturday.

Ronaldo scored for an 11th straight league game, matching the Serie A record set by Gabriel Batistuta in 1994 and equaled by Fabio Quagliarella last season.

Ronaldo also hit the crossbar with a free kick late on and had an early goal disallowed.

Aaron Ramsey doubled Juve’s lead in the second half before Andrea Petagna got Spal back into the match with a penalty.

Juventus visits Lyon in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday.

Serie A leader Juventus extended its advantage to four points above Lazio, which visits Genoa on Sunday. Third-place Inter Milan is also playing a relegation-threatened team on Sunday as it hosts Sampdoria.

Spal remained firmly bottom of the table, eight points from safety, after a fifth successive defeat.

Ronaldo thought he had given Juventus the lead in the fifth minute but it was ruled offside on video review.

However, the Portugal forward did get on the scoresheet six minutes from the break, rushing in at the far post to volley Juan Cuadrado‘s cross into the roof of the net.

It took Juventus until the hour mark to double its lead when Paulo Dybala sent in a delightful through ball for Ramsey, who lifted it above Spal goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.

Spal reduced the deficit nine minutes later after Juventus defender Daniele Rugani fouled midfielder Simone Missiroli. After a lengthy wait and the use of video review, a penalty was awarded and Petagna fired it into the bottom right corner.

AC Milan was playing at Fiorentina later. Bologna drew 1-1 at home to Udinese earlier.

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WATCH: Jose Luis Morales stunner shocks Real Madrid, hands Levante win

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Levante stunned Real Madrid 1-0 on Saturday, toppling Zinedine Zidane’s men from La Liga’s throne and handing them their first league loss since October, with a goal that is fitting for the importance of the situation.

Captain Jose Luis Morales, 32, sprinted down the left flank before finding Nikola Vukcevic’s lofting, through ball. The rest is history, really:

Morales’ first goal of the season is a big one for Levante – both on a results and emotional sense – moving them eight points behind sixth-place Sevilla. But it, undoubtably, works in Barcelona’s favor the most, who reclaimed the league’s top spot after Madrid’s loss and their 5-0 of Eibar.

Gabriel Jesus indirectly speaks about City future amid goal-scoring performance, Juventus links

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In the eye of transfer rumors linking him to Serie A leaders Juventus, Gabriel Jesus perhaps delivered one of Manchester City’s most gratifying goals as of late.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

The Brazilian striker’s short-range unbalanced shot in the 80th minute proved to be City’s winner on Saturday against Leicester City, solidifying a six-point lead on the Foxes, who squandered a handful of chances throughout the night.

Jesus was quick to redirect praise to teammate Riyad Mahrez, who to many, was player-of-the-match quality at King Power Stadium. The Algerian winger’s wizardry was on full displaying, especially in the sequence leading up to the defending champions’ winner. From the BBC:

“Always when I go on I try to help my team-mates and find space,” Jesus said. “[Riyad Mahrez] has a lot of quality and I thought ‘go’ because I know he has the quality to give me the ball, he gave a very good ball and I can score.”

Despite not being directly questioned about the Juventus link, Jesus indirectly made it clear that, like manager Pep Guardiola, who confessed his future stands in Manchester, he hopes to respect his contract at the Etihad.

“It is important for us, for the club,” the 22-year-old said about Guardiola confirming his stay at City. “We have a contract, we want to stay, of course it’s important.”

From City’s future Champions League ban, to Guardiola’s rumored departure, to the Leicester match, the topic of conversation around the club now revolves around their Round of 16 showdown with Real Madrid midweek.

It seems the storm has passed and the sun is starting to shine over the Etihad, and Guardiola senses that.

“The preparation after 12 days off was good, we have played two good games, and it’s good to prepare for Madrid with these good opponents,” he said. “We are playing the kings of the competition, we will see, we will try to enjoy it and do our game.”

Bundesliga wrap: RB Leipzig, Dortmund keep pace with Bayern

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There were plenty of young American players on show Saturday as the Bundesliga title race continues with at least three contestants.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

RB Leipzig smashed Schalke and BVB took care of business at Werder Bremen to stay close to Bayern Munich.

Borussia Monchengladbach slipped a bit off the pace with a draw, but still has a match-in-hand on the three teams ahead of it.

Werder Bremen 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Erling Haaland scored his 40th goal of a season spread between BVB and Red Bull Salzburg to salt away a two-goal win a relegation-threatened Bremen.

Dan-Axel Zagadou scored BVB’s other goal, with Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hazimi getting assists. Dortmund is four points back of leaders Bayern and three back of Leipzig. They face Bayern on April 4 and Leipzig on May 9.

American teen Giovanni Reyna followed up his first UCL assist at midweek by making another substitute appearance. He completed all 12 of his passes, making one key pass and winning 2-of-3 duels in 13 minutes.

Fellow USMNT man Josh Sargent played 11 minutes for the hosts, converting his only dribble attempt and winning his only 50-50 while registering an interception.

Schalke 0-5 RB Leipzig

Five different players scored for the visitors in a humbling of David Wagner‘s top four hopefuls in Gelsenkirchen.

Marcel Sabitzer’s last name sounds like a weapon, and he put Schalke on notice with a bullet after 55 seconds before Timo Werner, Marcel Halstenberg, Angelino, and Emil Forsberg joined in on the fun.

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie was subbed off in the 55th minute with the score 1-0, so he was spared a bit.

Bayern Munich 3-2 Paderborn — Friday
Hertha Berlin 0-5 Koln
Freiburg 0-2 Fortuna Dusseldorf
Borussia Monchengladbach 1-1 Hoffenheim
Bayer Leverkusen v. Augsburg — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Wolfsburg v. Mainz — Noon ET Sunday
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Union Berlin — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 23 15 4 4 65 26 39 8-2-2 7-2-2 49
 RB Leipzig 23 14 6 3 61 25 36 7-3-1 7-3-2 48
 Borussia Dortmund 23 13 6 4 65 32 33 8-3-0 5-3-4 45
 Mönchengladbach 22 13 4 5 43 25 18 8-2-1 5-2-4 43
 Bayer Leverkusen 22 12 4 6 38 29 9 5-4-2 7-0-4 40
 FC Schalke 04 23 9 9 5 32 32 0 5-5-2 4-4-3 36
 1899 Hoffenheim 23 10 4 9 34 36 -2 5-1-6 5-3-3 34
 SC Freiburg 23 9 6 8 31 33 -2 5-2-4 4-4-4 33
 VfL Wolfsburg 22 8 7 7 28 28 0 3-5-3 5-2-4 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 22 8 4 10 37 35 2 6-3-2 2-1-8 28
 FC Augsburg 22 7 6 9 34 45 -11 5-3-3 2-3-6 27
 1. FC Union Berlin 22 8 2 12 27 35 -8 6-0-5 2-2-7 26
 1. FC Köln 22 8 2 12 33 42 -9 5-1-5 3-1-7 26
 Hertha BSC Berlin 23 7 5 11 27 43 -16 3-2-7 4-3-4 26
 FSV Mainz 05 22 7 1 14 31 48 -17 3-1-7 4-0-7 22
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 23 5 5 13 23 46 -23 3-2-6 2-3-7 20
 Werder Bremen 23 4 5 14 25 53 -28 1-2-8 3-3-6 17
 SC Paderborn 23 4 4 15 29 50 -21 2-1-9 2-3-6 16