LONDON — England beat France 2-0 in a poignant, moving friendly at Wembley on Tuesday but following the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday, this occasion wasn’t about the game.
[ MORE: Behind-the-scenes at Wembley ]
On a night where England and France came together to honor the 129 who died in the attacks in Paris last week, La Marseillaise was sung in unison by home and away fans as a strong feeling of union took center stage.
Speaking to the media after the game France’s manager Didier Deschamps summed up his emotions on the sidelines as he listened on to over 71,000 fans, mostly English, belt out France’s national anthem in London.
“I felt very, very strong emotions. Powerful emotions. I’m sure if I was to ask yourself when we all sung together, it was a special, powerful, emotional moment,” Deschamps said. “Everyone has their own way of displaying that emotion. Some people are more sensitive and keep it to themselves and others are outgoing. It was a moment where everybody came together. It was a moment of communion. It was heart-wrenching. You felt it in your heart and deep down in your gut. It was a special, moving, grandiose moment.”
The grandiose nature of the match seemed to impact France’s players as a screamer from Dele Alli and a volley from Wayne Rooney led England to victory. France’s captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris admitted that he and his teammates lacked concentration during the game as, understandably, the occasion weighed heavy on them with their country still in mourning.
“First of all we want to thank all the England people in the stadium for their respect,” Lloris said. “The performance was not there for us and we had a lack of aggressiveness and concentration. It was more about solidarity. Life is still going on so we need to carry on.”
“There was a sporting meaning to the fixture tonight but on a human level the match and the occasion had far greater importance,” Deschamps said. “I don’t want to take anything away from England because it was a great performance. England were at it from the word go and it was a good performance from them. I am not saying we didn’t have desire. Certainly the desire and the will was there from ourselves. We were up for it as well. All things considered the human aspect was maybe more important tonight.”
England’s captain and scorer, Rooney, spoke about the message shown in playing the match. With Germany vs. Netherlands called off earlier on Tuesday due to a security scare in Hannover, the fact that England vs. France was crucial.
“It was always going to be a difficult night for everyone, especially the French players and staff,” Rooney said. “For ourselves to be involved in this occasion was tough, the young players were excited but it was a difficult game for them. I thought both teams handled it extremely well. The fans were brilliant. This will be shown round the world and will show unity. Football is a global game and, as Didier Deschamps said yesterday, it is not about religion or race. We need to stand tall and stand together in these tough times.”
England manager Roy Hodgson singled out 19-year-old Alli for special praise following the game and called the match “a very poignant occasion.” However, it was a night that wasn’t about goals, yellow cards or individuals performances. The occasion was about unity and strength between England and France.
“We have been very grateful that not just the people here at Wembley but the whole English nation have supported us,” Deschamps said. “They have been strong with us. We have had a moment of communal grief. This outpouring of communal grief has been good for us.”