LONDON: The significance of it might not have dawned on the average French-man taking a break in London but those in Didier Deschamps' squad who have made England their home will have glanced more than once at the armed Metropolitan police offi-cers who stood by the tunnel at Wembley last night as the squad came out to train.
No visiting teams are ordinarily granted an armed guard when they come to play England at Wembley at the invitation of the Football -Association, but then this is no ordinary friendly and no ordinary occasion. The FA chief executive, Martin Glenn, said the "eyes of the world" would be on Wembley tonight in the aftermath of the Paris attacks of Friday.
Hugo Lloris said the French nation would be "more important than the French football". Deschamps himself spoke of the "chance to represent those very beautiful colours: red, white and blue".
Football did not choose to be the stage for the French nation's first public expression of nationhood since the attacks that have killed 129 so far, but football it is and football it will be. From the singing of La Marseillaise by both sets of fans to the Tricolore mosaic, this will be a night like no other at Wembley. It would hardly be a surprise if, for the first time in living memory, the home crowd were to applaud a goal scored by a visiting nation.
There will be no chances taken, with security checks ramped up and a mood at Wembley that while this is a monumental task that has been thrust upon the FA it is one to which the 152-year-old institution must, and will, rise. And last of all will come the football itself, although in the course of 45 minutes at Wembley yesterday not one reporter felt it appropriate to ask Deschamps any questions about his approach to selection or tactics.
The truth is that for the inspiring note of defiance to the death cult that struck Paris on Friday night, Deschamps' players themselves have struggled with the notion of playing the game so soon. The decision was taken for them by Noel Le Graet, the French Football Federation president, who decreed on Saturday morning that the match must go ahead.
Le Graet, 73, is respected among the players and once they realised that there was a momentum behind the decision to play then they recognised they could not resist. What has been difficult has been the refusal of the FFF to admit families to their base at Clairefontaine since Friday, or to let the players out for any time. Asked whether the players had unanimously wanted to play, Lloris delicately avoided the question, although he said enough.
"I can say we had some doubts and some concerns about the game, but in the end the president confirmed we had to play this game," Lloris said. "Like all my team-mates, we respect his decision. It will be a good opportunity to represent the French nation.
"I think the French nation is more important [tonight] than French football." He added later: "The decision to stay at Clairefontaine was taken very, very quickly. Of course we would have liked to have seen our nearest and dearest, but time went very quickly."
The judicious choice of language, and the capacity to strike the right tone in moments such as these are not the natural territory of the -professional footballer and for Deschamps, in particular, it was a struggle at times. He talked of the long anxious wait at the stadium on Friday night, of a few hours of fitful sleep. He looked exhausted.
Asked at one point to describe how he felt about the jihadists who had carried out the attacks on Paris, Deschamps conceded that he could not find the words. "It's difficult to reply to that, after such an atrocity, such a barbaric act... we're thinking an awful lot of the victims, their immediate family and friends, but I don't want to comment more than that." He was on more certain ground when he borrowed from Lassana Diarra's moving appeal for peace following the death of his cousin Asta Diakite. "Look at the words that Lassana published in his remarkable message: sport has no colour or religion," he said. "That has always been the case. It must remain so."
Diarra had been "a source of reassurance for all of us", Deschamps said. "He's been very strong, and we've all learnt the values of unity and solidarity."
For once he was unsure what kind of performance he would get from his team and, of course, for once it does not matter.
The France Under-21 team, playing against Macedonia in a European Championship qualifier in Skopje on Sunday night, were two goals down to their humble opposition at half?time. Those who saw the game said they looked emotionally wrecked, although they fought back for a 2-2 draw.
Lloris said the game at Wembley would be a chance for a "great -moment of solidarity" with the English, especially in the joint singing of La Marseillaise, although it was telling that he said, perhaps without noticing he had, that for 90 minutes it would also be a chance to "escape".