ARMED police flanked the approaches to Wembley and the SAS mingled with supporters inside the stadium on an unprecedented night in world sport, never mind in the long histories of two proud football nations.
The result – England won courtesy of stunning strikes either side of the interval from Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney as the toll of the last few days was felt by Didier Deschamps’ brave French side – was irrelevant.
Instead, Wembley’s final international of 2015 was all about showing solidarity with a grieving neighbour just four days after the atrocities of Paris that left 129 innocents dead and hundreds more injured.
In that respect, the night was a moving and poignant success. From the impeccable minute’s silence during which both teams lined up shoulder to shoulder through to the emotional singing of La Marseillaise, two countries who have not always rubbed along smoothly through the ages were united in sending out a clear message to those behind the bloodshed.
This sense of fraternité provided an uplifting end to a day that had begun amid headlines of the police and SAS being under orders to shoot to kill if terrorists struck at Wembley in a manner similar to how three suicide bombers had tried – and thankfully failed – to gain admission to the Stade de France last Friday.
As for the football itself, the pre-match fears that the emotional trauma of the previous few days might lead to proceedings being played at a testimonial pace proved wide of the mark.
This was particularly the case during the first hour before wholesale substitutions began to disrupt the rhythm of the match.
Up until then, there had been a strong competitive element to the contest. This was perhaps best illustrated during the passage of play that led to Alli marking his full debut with a stunning goal six minutes before half-time.
As the ball broke near the centre circle, the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder and French counterpart Morgan Schneiderlin were a similar distance apart.
Considering the stress and emotion of the past few days, either player could have been forgiven for not flying into the tackle wholeheartedly.
Both, however, did just that and it was Alli who emerged with possession. The ball was then worked out to Rooney, who found Alli 30 or so yards from goal with a neat pass.
Last season’s League One player of the year took one touch before unleashing a ferocious shot that gave Hugo Lloris no chance in the visitors’ goal. It capped what had been an entertaining first half, in which both England and France had carved out decent opportunities.
Perhaps the best of these before Alli’s opener had fallen to Rooney, who after wrong-footing Laurent Koscielny thrashed a left-footed shot just wide of the target.
Harry Kane had helped create that opportunity with a slide-rule pass and the Spurs man followed his team-mate’s strike with a shot that Lloris did well to beat away at his near post.
At the other end, Joe Hart was also kept busy in those opening 45 minutes. He had to get down smartly to block a drilled effort from Anthony Martial before rushing from his line to cut out a pass from Hatem Ben Arfa, he of the bone idle displays when on loan at Hull City last term, that was intended for Yohan Cabaye.
Deschamps, in an attempt to bring more craft to his side, brought on Juventus playmaker Paul Pogba and Kingsley Coman of Bayern Munich at the interval.
Within three minutes of the restart, however, England had doubled their advantage and, again, Alli was heavily involved with a sublime pass to release Raheem Sterling down the left.
He then whipped over an inviting cross for Rooney to volley past Lloris from close range.
France, showing the type of resilience and character that had made it possible to play last night’s friendly, refused to be bowed. Poga shot narrowly over before only a defiant block from Alli denied Martial a clear shot on goal.
The Manchester United forward was then frustrated by a brave block from Jack Butland after the home defence had been undone by a deft back-heel from Pogba.
Lassana Diarra, whose cousin had been killed in the terror attacks, came off the bench to a heartfelt round of applause from the 71,223 crowd, but the visitors could not find the goal that even some of the home fans probably craved.
However, even though a victory on the Wembley turf proved beyond Deschamps and his men, the triumph of the French players came in fulfilling this fixture in the very toughest of circumstances. Allez Les Bleus.
England: Hart (Butland 46); Clyne, Cahill, Stones, Gibbs; Dier, Alli (Jones 88); Barkley (Shelvey 79), Rooney, Sterling (Lallana 68); Kane (Bertrand 80). Unused substitutes: Smalling, Jones, Walker, Mason, Lingard, Heaton.
France: Loris; Sahna, Varane, Koscielny, Digne; Schneiderlin (Sissoko 82), Cabaye (Diarra 57); Matuidi (Coman 46), Ben Arfa (Pogba 46); Gignac (Giroud 57); Martial (Griezmann 66). Unused substitutes: Jallet, Evra, Perrin, Mangala, Mandanda, Costil.
Referee: K Eriksson (Sweden).