England vs. France: Over 71,000 soccer fans unite against Paris attacks

Posted at 5:29 PM, Nov 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-17 17:29:49-05
French supporters wave the national flags prior to the International Friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

French supporters wave the national flags prior to the International Friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Over 71,000 spectators joined the France and England teams in collectively singing the French national anthem before the soccer friendly at Wembley Stadium in London on Tuesday.

The match, which England won 2-0 on the back of a first-half strike by Tottenham’s 19-year-old Dele Alli and a second-half volley from Wayne Rooney, took on added significance as French players suited up only four days after facing trauma on their home soil.

“Tonight’s performance was not easy for us,” said French captain Hugo Lloris following the match. “We had a lack of aggressiveness, a lack of concentration. But I think that’s normal.”

In a show of solidarity following Friday’s Paris terror attacks that claimed 129 lives, lyrics to the spirited anthem “La Marseillaise” were visible on giant screens. The crowd — including UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Britain’s Prince William, the president of the English Football Association — was encouraged to join in.

Both managers, Roy Hodgson of England and Didier Deschamps of France, joined Prince William in carrying wreaths onto the pitch before the match. Hundreds of French flags were waved by fans, while some arrived in costume for the occasion.

Players mixed together, wrapping arms in a straight line for a joint team photograph before kickoff, a gesture which dew warm applause from the crowd whose attendance figure was announced at 71,223. A minute of silence was then observed, with the bristling noise of a military helicopter eerily hovering above.

“We see it as a show of defiance,” said Hodgson moments before the match. “The French team and the French federation were very keen that the game would go ahead, just to make certain that the terrorists won’t win and force games to be stopped. That’s what (the French) wanted and that’s pretty much what we wanted too.”

Above the pitch, Wembley’s metal arch was illuminated in red, white and blue, joining a number of global landmarks that paid tribute to the French flag, including the Sydney Opera House, Egypt’s pyramids of Giza, and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

With pre-match security that featured highly visible armed officers patrolling the stadium, and ticket holders being asked to arrive early for extra screening, the match — previously considered a non-event by most fans — took on a new level of significance.

One of the coordinated attacks on Friday had targeted the Stade de France, where President Francois Hollande was in attendance to watch France play Germany.

Security guards in the area told CNN that one of the bombers tried to enter the stadium but was stopped by security. Shortly afterward, explosives detonated outside the stadium were heard and Hollande was evacuated.

Players from both teams remained at the Stade de France until the early hours of the morning.

France midfielder Lassana Diarra’s cousin Asta Diakite was killed in the attack at Le Bataclan, while teammate Antoine Griezmann’s sister was also at the concert hall but survived. Diarra came on as a substitute in the 56th minute, while Griezmann made an appearance 10 minutes later.

Understandably, Hodgson said the match would not be a “normal friendly,” while Lloris said playing in defiance of the terror attacks would be a “great moment of solidarity.”

Although the decision to play the match at Wembley did not appear to be in doubt, other matches in Europe were called off, including Belgium vs. Spain in Brussels, and Germany vs. Netherlands — which was canceled less than two hours before kickoff off in Hannover, with the stadium evacuated due to security concerns.

Belgium raised its terrorist alert threat level to three out of a maximum of four, the country’s Interior Ministry’s Crisis Center said late Monday. Hollande said the attacks had been coordinated in Belgium, where several of the assailants lived.

Over the years, global sporting events have been affected by terror attacks, with no set responses as to the length of time before resuming play.

Following the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., Major League Baseball and the NFL both postponed their games for a week, while Major League Soccer simply canceled the final two weeks of its 2001 regular season.

Before the match, Lloris indicated that not all the French players were enthusiastic about playing on Tuesday, but accepted the decision.

“The president (Hollande) confirmed that we had to play this game, and I think like all of my teammates we respect this decision, and it will be a good opportunity to represent the French nation,” he said the day before the match.

“I think the French nation is perhaps more important the French football,” he said.

France will host the Euro 2016 tournament in beginning on June 10, 2016. French sports minister Patrick Kanner was adamant that the games would be played in France on schedule.

Ukraine and Sweden both qualified after their matches on Tuesday, securing the final two spots in the field of 24.