Saturday 17 August 2019

Alli shines bright as Wembley delivers right message

The words 'Liberte, Igalite, Fraternite' and the colours of the French flag adorn Wembley Stadium
The words 'Liberte, Igalite, Fraternite' and the colours of the French flag adorn Wembley Stadium

Jason Burt

The scoreboard read 2-0 to England but it was always 1-0 to football.

The statistics record that Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney scored but they were a footnote in a far greater moment in history; an evening when the occasion, the resolution to play this friendly international, the message that sent, mattered far 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, probably inadvertent, but somehow appropriate, reminder.

The flowers had been placed pre-match by the dignitaries after the ceremonies and tributes, the defiance and the remembrance of those who had died in the Paris atrocities drew to a close before kick-off.

The world will be watching, the English 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, of course, 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 encouragement from this England side, youthful but also technically gifted, with assured performances from Alli, Ross Barkley and John Stones, 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.

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.

Long before the end the crowd 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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