England vs France: French dazed but determined to wear shirt with even more pride

Deschamps gives moving account of mood within team as players struggle to focus on football in wake of Paris attacks

The arch at Wembley Stadium is lit in the colours of the Tricolore
The arch at Wembley Stadium is lit in the colours of the Tricolore

As sombre a press conference as Wembley has staged presented a football manager and his team in deep mourning last night. Didier Deschamps and the French squad arrived in London out of a profound sense of duty to the people of France but it is clear that hearts and minds are elsewhere.

Doubts were acknowledged about the desirability of fulfilling the fixture with England so soon after the Paris atrocities in which the cousin of one squad member was among the 132 victims and the sister of another narrowly escaped the carnage of the Bataclan theatre massacre.

Nevertheless Deschamps, supported by captain Hugo Lloris, maintained a unified front, insisting that the squad would carry out the function demanded of them by the president of the French Football Federation to the best of their ability and with pride.

“We are not here to be going over a decision taken on Saturday morning. We are here to take the field and to represent our country with probably even more pride than normal,” Deschamps said. “It has been quite a difficult and stressful time. But we have been together and each individual player has dealt with it in their own way.

“The main thing is we shared this grief, tried to be professional, focused on work and rid ourselves of the stress. Now the time has come to focus on the match with the utmost dignity and sobriety that the situation deserves.”

France head coach Didier Deschamps and captain Hugo Lloris were in sombre mood on Monday

The Stade de France, where France hosted Germany on Friday night, was targeted by suicide bombers during the match, costing the life of an innocent bystander. The explosions could be heard around the ground but the players were not informed about the gravity of the situation and the connected attacks across the city until after the final whistle.

When the German team elected not to leave the stadium, Deschamps decided the French squad would remain with them in a remarkable show of unity. “We heard noises, explosions, but we were so focused you half wondered without knowing what really happened. We did not realise until after the match the extent of the disastrous events taking place in stadium and in certain areas of Paris.

“When it became clear Germany wanted to stay in the stadium independently of what the French security services recommended we approached Joachim Löw and his staff and said we would remain with them. It was right that we did that. We did not get back to Clairefontaine [the team’s base] until the small hours. We tried to eat something and sleep but it was difficult to do either of those things. The night was short before daybreak came around.”

Before departing for England the French squad remained at Clairefontaine rather than return to their families. Lloris referred to the group gatherings during which the players attempted to process the tragic events of Friday night.

“We are human and we had doubts whether to play or not, to go home or stay together, but I think it was well managed by the coach and the technical staff,” he said. “The last three days were a bit dramatic. We have been talking together as a group. It has been difficult with all that happened trying to stay focused. We have been keeping up to date with news. It is tough for the victims and their families. We are playing for the victims and for our country.”

Paris survivor on the attacks

Lassana Diarra’s courageous response to the loss of his cousin, particularly his moving message on social media, that horror has no colour nor religion, has had a galvanising effect on the squad, as Deschamps acknowledged. “Two of our squad were profoundly touched by what happened. [Antoine] Griezmann was relieved and touched by happiness that his sister was able to escape alive. Lassana was touched in a different way by the loss of a family member who he was close to. We conversed with both. His [Lassana’s] presence is a reassurance for us. He and all of us have learned the value of unity and solidarity.”

Deschamps was presented with a bunch of flowers in the colours of the French flag by the Football Writers Association in a gesture of condolence. The move symbolised the attitude of the people of Britain towards the people of France and the victims, and summed up an atmosphere that has little to do with football.

That said, Deschamps recognised the symbolic power of the match and gave thanks for the messages of condolence. “Not just this group of players but the whole of France are even more proud of our country than ever we were. Everyone has his own way of analysing and reflecting on what happened but it is very important tomorrow night that we represent our country. Even before this happened that was something never taken lightly. Wearing the shirt is a responsibility we have never forgotten.

“I have always stated it is a huge source of pride to represent my country in sport and that has become even more important with this game. Sport represents almost a union of diversity. Lassana put it succinctly and superbly when he said horror has no colour and sport has no religion. Football is very popular around the world and has always represented important values. After these events these values will be represented in an even more important way.”

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