KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY —- English and French football offered their own clarion-clear response to the terror outrage in Paris last Friday as the two cross-Channel neighbours, so often antagonists down the centuries, united through sport in mutual defiance.
England won 2-0 but the result was irrelevant compared with the symbolism of the occasion which saw Prince William Duke of Cambridge, president of the Football Association, and Prime Minister David Cameron among the crowd amid enhanced security including armed police in Empire Way.
Both managers, England’s Roy Hodgson and France’s Didier Deschamps, had acknowledged the challenge of mixing sombre emotions with the dynamism of a sporting encounter.
Players and officials duly accomplished the essential marks of respect including a presentation of wreaths plus a united Wembley ‘choir’ joining in La Marseillaise.
A minute’s applause while a joint team picture was staged faded out into chants of “Allez les Bleus” and “England, England” before almost certainly the most perfectly-observed minute’s silence in the history of the stadium, old and new.
UEFA had confirmed on Monday that the 2016 European Championship finals will be hosted as planned in France and referee Jonas Ericsson’s whistle for the kickoff came almost as a relief, a release of tension, permitting the players to concentrate on what they all do most comfortably.
Both teams played committed, aggressive football with England showing the slight edge in attack. Skipper Wayne Rooney should have scored his 51st England goal on the halfhour but fired narrowly wide after being set clear by Harry Kane.
Nine minutes later and England were ahead with Tottenham newcomer Dele Alli, starting a senior international for the first time, lifted a 25yd angled drive beyond the clawing right hand of keeper Hugo Lloris and into the top corner.
Two minutes into the second half and England were 2-0 up. Alli robbed the newly-arrived French substitute Paul Pogba and fed Raheem Sterling whose left-wing cross was volleyed home by Rooney at the far post.
Pogba put that upset behind him and played an increasingly influential role as France found more energy and enthusiasm and sought to find a route back into the game.
Anthony Martial had a close-range effort blocked before being substituted by Antoine Griezmann. Both Griezmann and fellow substitute Lass Diarra were greeted with sympathetic applause: Diarra’s cousin was among the victims in Paris while Griezmann’s sister escaped the Bataclan massacre.
Hence England’s 2-0 victory was the least important result on the night.
England: Hart (Butland 46) – Clyne, Stones, Cahill, Gibbs – Alli (Jones 87), Dier – Sterling (Lallana 67), Barkley (Bertrand 76), Rooney – Kane (Shelvey 76).
France: Lloris – Sagna, Varane, Koscielny, Digne – Schneiderlin (Sissoko 81), Matuidi (Pogba 46) – Ben Arfa (Coman 46), Cabaye (Diarra 56), Martial (Griezmann 66) – Gignac (Giroud 56).
Referee: Ericsson (Swe)