Belfast Telegraph

England v France: Wembley pays a fitting tribute following Paris tragedy

England 2 - France 0

By Glenn Moore

The most important point about last night's match at Wembley was that it took place at all, but today Roy Hodgson will still sit down and analyse the DVD as if it were a conventional pre-tournament friendly.

He needs to because England have only four matches at most before Euro 2016 and the manager needs every one of them if he is to construct a cohesive team. But he also needs to because this match should have meaning beyond the fact of it happening. The show, like life itself, needs to go on.

Of all the words spoken in the build-up, among the most potent were those of a mother from Shropshire, here with her family.

The tickets had been bought as a birthday treat for her six-year-old. She was asked if she feared bringing her children, given the horror in Paris. Her reply was to say they discussed the issue with the children and wanted to demonstrate to them that they should not live in fear, that they should not be put off by acts of terror. The birthday was to be celebrated.

In the same spirit Dele Alli should be able to look back on his first international goal, and Eric Dier his first Wembley start, with a sense of joy, not sadness. And Hodgson should be able to believe this match had value when weighing judgement on his players.

It did, at least as much as most international friendlies. In some respect the strange, unique atmosphere was a good test of a young English footballer's temperament - though it would be unfair to judge their opponents by the same measure.

Just as in a high-pressure tournament match, the key to a good performance was setting aside the background and concentrating on the game.

To the players' credit, especially the visitors, the birthday boy, the 71,000 other fans, and both managers were treated to an often authentic match, very much in the style of modern international football. Which is to say it was largely a contest played in midfield with lots of quick, short, sideways passes as both sides probed for an opening.

If the absence of much pressing high up the pitch betrayed a lack of intensity, there were still some feisty tackles, not least the one on Morgan Schneiderlin made by Alli before his goal.

The goal capped a good half by England, who had initially seemed more unsettled by the circumstances of the match than their visitors. It was as if, like the England fans, they felt it good manners to cede the stage to their visitors.

Perhaps then it was wise for Hodgson to start with Joe Hart, despite the pressing need for Jack Butland to gain international experience. The Stoke City keeper can hardly be said to have learned much from his previous outing, his first 90-minute one, in Lithuania last month when he was effectively a spectator.

Starting with Hart suggested that Hodgson, after the chasing Spain gave England in Alicante last week, did not trust his reshaped defence to protect their keeper in those first, potentially emotional 45 minutes.

Hart did, indeed, have to be alert in denying Anthony Martial early on, later rushing from his line to intercept Hatem Ben Arfa's smart pass.

Butland was granted a game after the break, and made a good save from Martial, but by then the attention was very much on Alli.

He and the more subdued Ross Barkley played in tandem ahead of Dier with Harry Kane as the front man, Raheem Sterling wide and Wayne Rooney filling spaces in one of those free roles.

This fluid forward line worked well. When in range of goal Kane shoots on sight, and does so powerfully and accurately, but in deeper positions he has a fine eye for a pass and Alli should have done much better with one raking ball.

Rooney played as if he had a point to prove after being omitted in Spain and the way he had the measure of Laurent Koscielny recalled Manchester United-Arsenal matches of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Sterling, too, was lively at times, if given far too much space to pick out Rooney for the latter's goal. At that point it began to look as if the French had been drained, mentally and physically, by the wrenching emotion of the last few days. Just as one feared for them, however, Lassana Diarra appeared, which lifted his team-mates.

The eye, though, kept being drawn back to Alli and those orange boots that also pack a shot and a tackle. If Alli maintains his soaring progress it will be hard to quieten the clamour for him to be handed a starring role.

And so what if there are hype and headines? As long as Alli is well-advised and level-headed it is a harmless enough pursuit. Football, as Carlo Ancelotti likes to say, is "the most important of the less important things in life", and it felt good to be concentrating on it again.

Man United are sweating over the fitness of Martial - substituted in the 67th minute - ahead of Saturday's trip to Watford after the striker left Wembley on crutches and with his left foot bandaged.

ENGLAND: Hart (Butland 46),Clyne,Cahill,Stones,Gibbs,Dier, Alli (Jones 88),Barkley (Shelvey 79),Rooney, Sterling (Lallana 68),Kane (Bertrand 79).

Subs Not Used: Smalling,Walker,Mason,Lingard,Heaton.

Goals: Alli 39,Rooney 48.

France: Lloris,Sagna,Varane,Koscielny,Digne, Schneiderlin (Sissoko 82),Cabaye (Diarra 57),Matuidi (Pogba 46), Ben Arfa (Coman 46),Gignac (Giroud 57),Martial (Griezmann 67).

Subs Not Used: Mandanda,Jallet,Evra,Perrin,Mangala,Costil.

Man of the match: Dele Alli (above)

Attendance: 71,223

Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden).

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