Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney scored the goals that helped England beat France for the first time in 18 years, and end 2015 with a victory, but in reality the night was about more than just football.
What was meant to be a chance to prepare the two nations for next summer’s European Championship was instead seen as a symbol of strength and unity following the horrific events in Paris four days earlier.
Alli’s wonderful opener just before half-time and Rooney’s volley just after settled the match from a sporting perspective, but it was as much about what happened before as during the game.
England 2-0 France
Tuesday 17 November 2015
Wembley Stadium connected by EE
An emotional show of solidarity between England and France before kick-off around the stadium, and on the pitch, remembered those people who had been affected by Friday’s atrocities.
Both managers, Roy Hodgson and Didier Deschamps, along with HRH The Duke of Cambridge, laid floral tributes to the victims of the attacks before the national anthems were sung proudly around the stadium. The minute’s silence was observed to perfection, too, with the players in white and in blue intermingled around the centre-circle standing together in defiance.
While the reasons for the game going ahead were clear, the two teams wanted to make the most of the opportunity to take on a fellow Euro 2016 hopeful in their final games of the year.
Hodgson named a youthful line up, with a host of more experienced names unavailable due to injury, including six players aged 22 or under and two making their first senior England starts – Tottenham midfielders Dele Alli and Eric Dier.
Early French opportunities for Yohan Cabaye and Anthony Martial gave Joe Hart something to worry about, but the Crystal Palace man’s shot went over, while the Manchester United forward’s drive was well gathered.
Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney both had attempts, too, and it was the skipper’s second try that was closest.
Capitalising on space in the French half, the skipper carried the ball forward with Laurent Koscielny backing off, waiting for defensive support. It did not arrive in time, however, as Rooney side-stepped onto his left foot, but his fierce drive from 18 yards swerved away, brushing the post.
When the opener did arrive with six minutes of the first half remaining, it was one of pure quality from the right for of 19-year-old Alli – his first in his fourth outing for the Three Lions.
A crunching tackle from the Spurs man won the ball back just inside the French half, and as the ball stayed with England, he drifted forward into the space before receiving it back from Rooney and unleashing a perfect, dipping drive which beat club-mate Hugo Lloris at full-stretch and found the top corner of the net.
The second was nice, too, as the captain chalked up his 51st for his country three minutes after the break.
Raheem Sterling drove down the left wing and clipped in a delightful cross, dropping just over the head of the leaping Koscielny and into the path of Rooney. He lashed a volley first-time at Lloris from seven yards away, which the keeper could not prevent from ending up in the net.
Kane came close to extending the lead with an early long-range snap shot which went just wide of the post, while at the other end French substitute Paul Pogba found room to curl one towards the England goal now occupied by Jack Butland, but his 18 yard strike landed on the roof of the net.
Butland was then called into action again when Pogba and Martial linked up inside the England area. The former Manchester United youth player back-heeling into the path of the current Old Trafford star overlapping, but the Stoke City stopper was out quickly to block.
Pogba was certainly France’s main threat and in the final minute tried another pot-shot at goal, but once again the ball drifted over the bar and the victory was England’s.
And, while it was the Three Lions’ first home win against France since 1993, the night will be remembered for more than just the result.
England (4-2-3-1): 1 Joe Hart; 2 Nathaniel Clyne, 5 Gary Cahill, 6 John Stones, 3 Kieran Gibbs; 4 Eric Dier, 7 Dele Alli; 11 Raheem Sterling , 8 Ross Barkley, 10 Wayne Rooney (c); 9 Harry Kane
Substitutes 13 Jack Butland on for Hart, ht; 20 Adam Lallana on for Sterling, 68; 16 Ryan Bertrand on for Kane, 79; 17 Jonjo Shelvey on for Barkley, 79; 14 Phil Jones on for Alli, 88
Subs not used 12 Chris Smalling, 15 Kyle Walker, 18 Ryan Mason, 19 Jesse Lingard, 21 Tom Heaton (GK)
Manager Roy Hodgson
Goals Dele Alli, 39; Wayne Rooney, 48;
France (4-2-3-1): 1 Hugo Lloris (c); 15 Bacary Sagna, 4 Raphaël Varane, 21 Laurent Koscielny, 17 Lucas Digne; 22 Morgan Schneiderlin, 14 Blaise Matuidi; 8 Hatem Ben Arfa, 6 Yohan Cabaye, 11 Anthony Martial; 10 Andre-Pierre Gignac
Substitutes 19 Paul Pogba on for Ben Arfa, ht; 20 Kingsley Coman on for Matuidi, ht; 12 Lassana Diarra on for Cabaye, 56; 9 Olivier Giroud on for Gignac, 56; 7 Antoine Griezmann on for Martial, 67; 18 Moussa Sissoko on for Schneiderlin, 82;
Subs not used 2 Christophe Jallet, 3 Patrice Evra, 5 Loïc Perrin, 13 Eliaquim Mangala, 16 Steve Mandanda (GK), 23 Benoit Costil (GK)
Manager Didier Deschamps
Referee Jonas Eriksson (Swe)
Assistants Mathias Klasenius (Swe) and Daniel Warmark (Swe)
Fourth Official Michael Lerjeus (Swe)