It was set to be a useful preparatory exercise for Euro 2016 between two long-time rivals, but Tuesday’s encounter between England and France at London’s Wembley Stadium has taken on far greater and wider significance following last week’s tragic events in Paris. France was in the process of taking on Germany on Friday when the full scale of the horror began to emerge, through two loud explosions audible to the thousands packed into the Stade de France. It later emerged that the stadium, which will next year hold the final of Euro 2016, was a direct target of the terrorists who brought devastation to the streets of the French capital.
While that horror was averted, the players and coaching staff of the French national team were still directly touched by the atrocities. With the German team advised it wasn’t safe to leave the stadium after the final whistle, their French counterparts waited with them through the night in an act of solidarity. One of the French players, Lassana Diarra, would later learn that one of his cousins was killed in the attacks. For another squad member there was unimaginable relief, as forward Antoine Griezmann discovered that his sister had escaped the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 people died.
Both players, along with their teammates, elected to remain with the squad for what is sure to be an emotional occasion at Wembley just four days later.
“We have two players who have been profoundly touched by the incidents,” France coach Didier Deschamps said, per BBC Sport. “Antoine Griezmann was fortunate to have a feeling of relief and happiness, that his sister managed to stay alive despite being at the Bataclan.
“As for Lassana Diarra, his life has been touched by the deep loss of a relative who he was close to. It was good he stayed with us, I have talked with him, as all of us have, and his place has been a source of reassurance for us. We have learnt the value of unity and solidarity.”
Often fierce rivals on the pitch, there will be a show of solidarity between the two nations ahead of kickoff, with England fans being encouraged to join in with the singing of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise. Meanwhile, the famous Wembley arch will be lit up in the colors of the French flag.
“We will do our best to make a really good game of it but we can’t deny the seriousness of the occasion,” England coach Roy Hodgson said. “We can't deny the fact that this game is special. This is not a normal friendly because it is occurring only four days after this unbelievable terror attack and unfortunately that’s going to be lingering over everybody.
“I believe tomorrow night will be about us showing solidarity and people writing about the reasons for this football match being played, rather than what happens on the field.”
Adding to the feel of camaraderie, France are expected to field a side featuring six players who currently represent English Premier League clubs, as well as another, Hatem Ben Arfa, who did so until recently. England, meanwhile, have lost Michael Carrick and Jamie Vardy to injury, with Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard and Tottenham’s Ryan Mason called up in their place.
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1