French national team to play England in act of defiance

AP News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2015 1:39 PM
French national team to play England in act of defiance

LONDON (AP) — The Wembley Arch will be illuminated in the red, white and blue of the French flag. The French motto, "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" will be projected onto the front of the stadium. The words of "La Marseillaise," France's national anthem, will be shown on giant screens so that England fans can sing along with their French counterparts.

A match between the England and France soccer teams on Tuesday — a game that what supposed to serve as a valuable warm-up ahead of next year's European Championship — has been transformed into a poignant act of defiance, solidarity and sporting unity.

Three days after being caught up in the synchronized attacks in Paris that killed 129 people, France's players traveled to London for the game at England's national stadium, where there will be a beefed-up presence of armed security and increased checks outside the ground.

"The match tomorrow is going to have massive global significance," said Martin Glenn, chief executive of England's Football Association, on Monday. "It's the first big event to happen since the tragedy of last Friday ... the eyes of the world will be on Wembley."

For the French team, the show must go on despite the grieving of its players.

"Tomorrow will be a great moment of solidarity," France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said. "The last three days have been dramatic and I think we were in mourning all together. But the president (of the French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet) had the best decision to play this game, and it will be an opportunity to show our character through the game."

The English FA left the decision over whether the game should go ahead entirely in the hands of French soccer officials, with Le Graet giving the go-ahead without consulting France's players. England manager Roy Hodgson said the symbolism of the game taking place was more important than the result.

"We can't deny the seriousness of the occasion ... unfortunately that will be lingering over everyone, whether we like it or not," Hodgson said. "I've never (been involved in) a game four days after a tragedy of this immense proportion. I can't deny there are other issues at stake that are greater than the game of football."

On Friday, suicide bombers attacked the Stade de France in Paris, where France was playing Germany in an international friendly. The teams spent the night in the stadium as violence struck elsewhere in the French capital, during which time France midfielder Lassana Diarra's cousin was killed and France forward Antoine Griezmann's sister escaped from the Bataclan concert hall where 89 people died.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Diarra and Griezmann were among the 23-man squad that flew to London on Monday morning and trained first at a facility belonging to Premier League club Tottenham and then at Wembley Stadium.

France coach Didier Deschamps offered players the chance to withdraw from the game, but none have.

"We have two in the squad who were profoundly touched by the terrible incidents," France coach Didier Deschamps said, referring to Lassana and Griezmann. "I've conversed with both the lads, as I have a lot of the players.

His (Lassana's) presence has been a sense of reassurance for us because he has been very strong. He, like us, has learned the values of unity and solidarity."

Beating England at Wembley would mark an impressive double for the French, who defeated the world champion Germans 2-0 on Friday. The result will be of little importance, though.

"I think the world of football has to stay strong together," England captain Wayne Rooney said. "I'm sure everyone will do that and try to deal with the situation to the best everyone knows how to do. I'm sure football will bring people together."