Alli's Superb Strike Puts England on the Path to Victory

The resolution to play this friendly international, the message that sent, mattered more than anything else that could be discerned.

Published: 18th November 2015 07:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th November 2015 07:50 AM   |  A+A-

france vs eng_AP

England and France players stand together as a mark of respect for the victims of Friday's attacks in Paris, before the international friendly soccer match between England and France at Wembley Stadium in London. | AP

LONDON: The scoreboard read 2-0 to England but it was always 1-0 to football. The statistics record that both Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney scored but they were footnotes in a far greater moment; an evening when the occasion, the resolution to play this friendly international, the message that sent, mattered more than anything else that could be discerned.

Three wreathes lay by the side of the pitch throughout - one at the end of each technical area, one in the middle - as a constant reminder of that. Dignatries had placed the flowers once the ceremonies and tributes were completed before the match in remembrance of those who had died in the Paris atrocities.

The world will be watching, the Football Association had said. And the world will have liked what it saw. No one could fault the effort and the honourable commitment of those involved, especially this young, exciting French side who have so much to look forward to, but must first overcome the hurt of the present and the fear of the future, in Euro 2016 in their country next summer.

There was also encouraging signs from this England side, youthful but also technically gifted, with assured performances from Alli, Ross Barkley and John Stones - finally a ball-carrying central defender - among others.

No one knew how anyone would react if a goal was scored. It helped that, when Alli beat Hugo Lloris six minutes before the end of the first half, it was such an exceptional strike from such a joyous young talent. A gifted player who could not - and was right not to - prevent his delight from bursting through at scoring his first goal for his country on his first start, earning his fourth cap and all by the age of 19.

It was a brilliant goal, constructed down England's right with Alli winning the ball and Wayne Rooney turning it inside to the Tottenham man, whose angled, dipping right-foot shot from distance cleared Morgan Schneiderlin's challenge and arrowed out of Lloris' grasp to find the net. There was a gasp; and then the crowd reacted. Reacted as it should do to a goal; and a very good one at that.

Prior to kick-off, players had mingled as one, blue shirt then white as they ringed the centre circle for the impeccably observed minute's silence.

It began. How would the players react? How would the supporters? There were tentative chants. The roll of drums. Yohan Cabaye shot over; Hatem Ben Arfa clattered into Gary Cahill. It felt like a game.

Changes had been made; changes would have been made even before the events of last Friday with France - tellingly - including neither Lassana Diarra, who had lost his cousin, nor Antoine Griezmann, whose his sister was among the survivors of the concert attack.

On 10 minutes La Marseillaise rang out from the large pocket of French supporters high up in the stadium as Cahill blocked a shot from Andre-Pierre Gignac and while England, with just four players in their team from the side that had started the disappointing loss away to Spain, tried to find some degree of cohesion.

With Rooney restored as captain, it was interesting to see him initially pushed out to the left, although he later swapped flanks with Raheem Sterling, a decision that would have created much greater debate - as it had done during the World Cup - on another occasion and a decision that might have to be revisited, especially if it is a sign of things to come. That cannot be assessed on this occasion, given the absence of so many players and the context of the fixture.

Rooney was afforded a sight on goal when Schneiderlin was penalised for handball. His free-kick, however, curled into Lloris's arms.

The mood in the stands was understandably subdued, uncertain. Less so on the pitch. Eventually supporters broke out in a Mexican wave, as if to break the tension and strangeness of it all.

The atmosphere did not reflect what the players were doing. They were attempting to make a game of it. There was a roar of excitement when England broke quickly to craft a chance for Rooney, with Ross Barkley and Harry Kane combining. The latter picked out the captain who cut across Laurent Koscielny. His rising shot marginally cleared the goal-frame.

Alli was heavily involved in England's second goal, soon into the second half. Encouragingly high up the pitch, he stole possession from substitute Paul Pogba and quickly fed the ball out wide to Sterling, whose cross beat Koscielny and fell to Rooney. His crisp volley from close range ricocheted off Lloris and into the net to give him his 51st goal for England. Again, rightly, there were celebrations.

Soon after Kane's shot from outside the area just cleared the post and it was beginning to look difficult for France, who after their bright start were appearing fatigued, understandably drained of energy.

Didier Deschamps began to run through his changes, with four substitutions made before the hour was up, among them Diarra's arrival to a standing ovation. Pogba also drew applause as his shot curled around goalkeeper Jack Butland - on as a substitute - but went over the bar to land on the top of the net.

Butland then smothered an effort from Anthony Martial before Griezmann replaced him. Long before the end the crown had begun to thin out. Not through any lack of respect but, more likely, through a natural impulse to clear the area. It was another reminder of how strange but important a night it had been.


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