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

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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.

Deeney considers training return after talking with top doctor

Troy Deeney
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Watford captain Troy Deeney is considering a return to training after some of his concerns were allayed by a leading doctor.

Deeney, 31, declined to return to training last week due to fears of spreading the coronavirus to his five-month-old son, who struggles from breathing difficulties.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

He also expressed concerns over how the virus has disproportionately affected the black community.

Deeney stated he never said his absence from training was permanent and that talks with Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, have helped him.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m potentially going to go in next week. Even if it’s just to have a conversation. I’ve already been in dialogue with all the players and all the management.”

Deeney also said he received some vile abuse directed at his son following his first comments, which is disgusting but unfortunately not surprising.

Watford is currently outside the Premier League drop zone on goal difference, one of three teams on 27 points. Deeney’s six goals share the team lead with Ismaila Sarr, and the veteran has scored 129 goals in his Hornets career.

Hornets goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes said this week that Watford “cannot afford” to be without the striker and that he believed the environment is very safe. Hopefully all things work out for Deeney and his family.

Bundesliga: Takeaways from Germany’s midweek matches

Bundesliga team of the week
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This midweek was all about Bayern Munich, who will win its eighth-straight Bundesliga title next month unless it suffers a shocking and historic collapse.

Bayern Munich’s 1-0 Tuesday defeat of Borussia Dortmund took the steam out of their Klassiker rivals’ title hopes, and it only got worse for fans wanting the title race to stretch deep into June.

[ MORE: Davies shines again | McKennie scores ]

Any club within shouting distance declined to raise a hand in protest, with RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach drawing lower-half sides and Bayer Leverkusen forgetting how to defend in a blowout home loss to Wolfsburg.

So now a Bayern team which has not lost in 14 matches, winning 13 of them, will need to fail miserably over the final six matches while someone else will need to take all 18 points available to them.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Der Klassiker ]

Good luck with that.

Bayern’s six remaining matches were enough to think there would be a title fight if Dortmund at least drew the reigning champs but find the eight dropped points that would allow a perfect BVB to pass them:

Saturday – v. Fortuna Dusseldorf
June 6 – at Bayer Leverkusen
June 13 – v. Gladbach
June 16 – at Werder Bremen
June 20 – v. Freiburg
June 27 – at Wolfsburg

Maybe next year, because it’s incredibly unlikely this year.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]


Nagelsmann rages as Leipzig blows chance

RB Leipzig won’t have liked Bayern Munich beating Dortmund — it would’ve likely preferred a draw, but it would’ve liked almost everything else it liked on the scoreboard Tuesday.

So to allow an early goal off a set piece to bottom-half (but admittedly in-form) Hertha Berlin and then toss away the good fortune of taking a 2-1 lead despite being down a man is just terrible.

This is a Leipzig side which defends so well and entered the match week having allowed the league’s fewest goals.

“We started well, but fell behind because we defend a set piece like a school team,” Nagelsmann said after the game. “We simply did nothing, everyone is standing in position, yet (Grujic) could finish with his foot in the box. This is the second time in a row in a home game that we conceded from a set piece. We have to blame ourselves for this. We’re happy that we scored another point, but I’m not happy at all.”

Leipzig has a manageable run into the final day aside from a Dortmund visit. Nagelsmann’s boys otherwise face Paderborn, Koln, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Augsburg, and an uneven Hoffenheim. They had some hope of catching Bayern and gaining sharpness for the Champions League, but only the latter looks likely after dropping two points to Hertha


Player of the Week

Austrian youth international Christoph Baumgartner has been moved all over the pitch this season, but he was a wizard in the final third as an attacking midfielder.

Hoffenheim rebounded from a terrible first two matches since the return from the coronavirus pause to beat Koln 3-1 on Wednesday, red cards going to each team.

Baumgartner did his damage early in scoring twice and adding an assist in building a 3-0 lead. He had two key passes, was four-of-four in take-ons, and won eight of 11 duels over 77 minutes.

Still 20 until Aug. 1, Baumgartner six goals and four assists in his first Bundesliga season.

And he’s got audacity for days. Look at this drag and drop assist to Steven Zuber.


BEST XI

Sommer (Gladbach)

Baku (Mainz) — Boateng (Bayern) — Pongracic (Wolfsburg) — Davies (Bayern)

 Grujic (Hertha) — Kimmich (Bayern) — Arnold (Wolfsburg)

Baumgartner (Hoffenheim) — Grifo (Freiburg)

Hennings (Fortuna)

Notes

  • Croatian center back Marin Pongracic was one of several big names to leave Salzburg in January, and the big man delivered for Wolfsburg in a big way with two goals in a 4-1 win over Bayer, also making four clearances, blocking two shots, intercepting two passes and winning four of six duels.
  • Fortuna needed a win in a bad way, and two come back against Schalke has to feel good. Veteran striker Rouwen Hennings turned back the clock and scored his 12th of the season in the win and first since before Christmas.
  • Gladbach’s 0-0 draw with Werder Bremen would’ve been worse if not for goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Bremen forced seven saves out of the veteran, who passed at 83 percent and completed 8 of 13 long balls.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


SCORES

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Bayern Munich — RECAP | Kimmich reacts
Werder Bremen 0-0 Borussia Monchengladbach — RECAP
Eintracht Frankfurt 3-3 Freiburg — RECAP
Bayer Leverkusen 1-4 Wolfsburg — RECAP
RB Leipzig 2-2 Hertha Berlin — RECAP
Augsburg 0-0 Paderborn — RECAP
Union Berlin 1-1 Mainz — RECAP
Hoffenheim 3-1 Koln — RECAP
Fortuna Dusseldorf 2-1 Schalke — RECAP | WATCH: McKennie’s goal

WEEK 29 SCHEDULE (Full season schedule here)

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen — 2:30 p.m. ET Friday
Mainz v. Hoffenheim — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Schalke v. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Hertha Berlin v. Augsburg — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Bayern Munich v. Fortuna Dusseldorf — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Union Berlin — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund — Noon ET Saturday
Koln v. RB Leipzig — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 28 20 4 4 81 28 53 10-2-2 10-2-2 64
 Borussia Dortmund 28 17 6 5 74 34 40 10-3-1 7-3-4 57
 RB Leipzig 28 15 10 3 70 29 41 7-6-1 8-4-2 55
 Mönchengladbach 28 16 5 7 53 34 19 9-2-3 7-3-4 53
 Bayer Leverkusen 28 16 5 7 53 36 17 7-4-3 9-1-4 53
 VfL Wolfsburg 28 11 9 8 40 34 6 4-6-4 7-3-4 42
 1899 Hoffenheim 28 11 6 11 39 48 -9 6-1-8 5-5-3 39
 SC Freiburg 28 10 8 10 38 40 -2 6-2-5 4-6-5 38
 FC Schalke 04 28 9 10 9 34 45 -11 5-6-3 4-4-6 37
 Hertha BSC Berlin 28 9 8 11 41 50 -9 4-3-7 5-5-4 35
 1. FC Köln 28 10 4 14 44 52 -8 6-3-5 4-1-9 34
 FC Augsburg 28 8 7 13 40 54 -14 5-4-5 3-3-8 31
 1. FC Union Berlin 28 9 4 15 33 48 -15 6-2-6 3-2-9 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 27 8 5 14 44 52 -8 6-4-4 2-1-10 29
 FSV Mainz 05 28 8 4 16 37 61 -24 4-2-8 4-2-8 28
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 28 6 9 13 31 53 -22 4-4-6 2-5-7 27
 Werder Bremen 27 5 7 15 29 59 -30 1-3-9 4-4-6 22
 SC Paderborn 28 4 7 17 31 55 -24 2-2-10 2-5-7 19

Bundesliga wrap: Fortuna sinks Schalke, Hoffenheim flies

Bundesliga
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Goals and tired legs were everywhere in the midweek matches of the Bundesliga’s restart.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

First, the 10 men of RB Leipzig saw their title hopes drift away in a 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin.

Then came the 2:30 p.m. ET kickoffs, which saw a wonderful goal from an American at Schalke and an even better assist from Hoffenheim’s Christoph Baumgartner.

Read on, as the relegation and seventh-place pictures swung a little on Wednesday.

Fortuna Dusseldorf 2-1 Schalke

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie’s diving header of a 54th-minute free kick gave goal starved Schalke a lift, but Fortuna Dusseldorf knocked it back to earth in painful fashion.

Rouwen Hennings and Kenan Karaman scored six second-half minutes apart as Fortuna picked up a huge three points for its bid to stay in the top flight. Fortuna moves a point back of safety and five points clear of 17th place Werder Bremen.

Schalke is now winless in 10 and sits ninth, dropping five points back of sixth-place Wolfsburg and two behind Hoffenheim. Seventh place may be enough for a Europa League spot.

The 21-year-old McKennie’s second goal of the season came in his 70th career Bundesliga match. It was just Schalke’s third goal since Jan. 17, and only two have come in the last seven (both from McKennie).

[ WATCH: McKennie’s diving header goal ]

The hosts dominated the early stages of the match but Schalke had the first real danger when Daniel Caligiuri used a slick flick and hard shot to force a fine save out of Florian Kastenmeier.

Fortuna had 76 percent of the ball at halftime and a 5-2 advantage in shots, but Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny could’ve easily had it 1-0 to Schalke after the break had he got his foot around a Guido Burgstaller feed.

Kevin Stoger’s smashed free kick was only palmed into the air by Schalke keeper Markus Schubert in the 63rd minute and Hennings nodded the equalizer over the line from close range.

Hoffenheim 3-1 Koln

The red mist went both ways as 10-man Hoffenheim rebounded from a slow restart to Bundesliga life and collected a 2-0 home win over 10-man Koln.

Christoph Baumgartner’s two goals and an assist joined a 26th-minute red card for the visitors to build a 3-0 advantage, but Hoffenheim’s Benjamin Hubner picked up a second yellow in the 50th minute to put both sides down a man.

Jacob Bruun Larsen and Robert Skov played providers for Baumgartner and Steven Zuber also scored as Hoffenheim climbed into seventh with 39 points. Seventh could still be a Europa League spot depending on the winner of the German Cup.

Koln’s Florian Kainz scored at the hour mark but Mark Uth saw a late penalty saved by Oliver Baumann. Koln fails in a bid to join the top half and leaves Wednesday in 11th with 34 points.

Just look at Baumgartner’s pass on the third goal. He was absolutely feeling it.

Union Berlin 1-1 Mainz

A bonafide relegation six-pointer, Union and Mainz traded goals in the first 33 minutes before a second Robert Andrich yellow card put the hosts in danger of slipping closer to the relegation places.

Union remained strong at the back, with 15 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 15 clearances to collect a point and, more importantly, keep Mainz three points in the rear view mirror.

Union sits 13th with 31 points, while Mainz’s 28 is just one more than 16th-place Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Augsburg 0-0 Paderborn

Last-place Paderborn needs wins but collected its third-straight draw of the restart and remain dead last with 19 points.

The visitors will feel they were the better win on the day, out-shooting Augsburg 15-11 but missing two big chances.

Augsburg is now just four points clear of the bottom three with 31 points.

WATCH: USMNT’s McKennie scores diving header for Schalke

Weston McKennie goal video
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Schalke hasn’t been able to buy goals lately, but its USMNT midfielder went to the dirty areas to steal his side a Wednesday lead.

Weston McKennie’s diving header of a Bastian Oczipka free kick gave Schalke its third goal since Jan. 17. McKennie has Schalke’s only two goals in their last seven matches.

Schalke has four draws and five losses in the stretch, and has conceded twice since McKennie’s opener in the 10th match of the winless run.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Take nothing away from the quality of McKennie’s 54th-minute goal.

The 21-year-old’s second goal of the season came in his 70th career Bundesliga match and 86th senior appearance for the Royal Blues.