THIS time last week, head coach Roy Hodgson saw the opportunity to take on the Euro 2016 hosts at Wembley as an important part of England’s build-up to next summer’s finals.
Now, however, the Three Lions chief appreciates that tonight is more about showing solidarity with France in the wake of last Friday’s horrific events in Paris than what takes place on the pitch.
“All we can do really is make certain we play the best game possible,” said Hodgson.
“But, unfortunately, whichever way we think about it, we can’t deny there is something hanging over this game which is far, far greater than a football match and a football result.
“We will do our best on the football field and I am sure these young players will get great experience. And they won’t let the country down.
“But I believe (tonight) is going to be a little bit more around us showing solidarity and people writing about this football match being played. And the reasons for this match being played, rather than necessarily what actually happens on the field.”
Football may be a secondary concern tonight but, even so, Hodgson will still be hoping to learn a few things from how a predominantly young side fares.
Ryan Mason, despite not having started a Spurs game since September, yesterday became the latest late call-up after Fabian Delph dropped out.
The previous day, uncapped Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard had been drafted in following injuries to Jamie Vardy and Michael Carrick.
Against France, Hodgson says six of his starting XI are likely to be under the age of 22 as he contends with the dozen players who missed Friday’s defeat in Spain plus the trio who have since dropped out.
The England chief added: “There will be 11 on the field, many quite young, some even making their debuts. It will be a big night for them. We mustn’t forget that it is an important moment for them, and we want them to enjoy playing football.
“I hope when the whistle goes, it will be about football. The French trying to beat us, and us them.”
Lingard, who got the nod ahead of Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha despite having played less than 200 minutes of Premier League football, will not start tonight, but he could come off the bench due to England’s resources being stretched by injury.
Asked about the 22-year-old’s lack of top-flight experience, Hodgson replied: “That goes for a lot of our players. We are England and we do feel we have some good players and good potential.
“But, once you take 13 or 14 out, you will be left with some players without much experience. That is okay. It is a great opportunity for these boys.
“The one disappointment is that, during the latter part of the qualifying campaign, we were looking at these games as having a lot of options to explore. But we have not been able to put out and work on a team we had envisaged.
“That will have to be delayed until March. Hopefully, if we get enough games before the Euros, we will still get four or five where we can work a bit more acutely on the team that might well start the tournament.”
As Hodgson concedes, tonight is likely to be an emotional occasion for everyone at Wembley and particularly the visiting players.
It is to the credit of Didier Deschamps and his team that they feel able to play so soon after the horrors of Friday, which included the murder of Lassana Diarra’s cousin.
The England manager added: “When you talk about events of this magnitude, we have to revert to our position as foot soldiers in the whole affair.
“The body of thought – which says that football is so unimportant on a global scale and shouldn’t be played after this even – has to be weighed up against giving in.
“Cancelling an event, if something happens like this, would be giving in to the terrorists.”
Hodgson added: “We would have been perfectly happy with whatever decision was made. We weren’t pushing for the game to be played or not. We sat back and waited for a decision.
“I can’t deny that there are other issues here which are greater than the game of football.
“I really can’t imagine how this game is going to go and what sort of football is going to be played, I have never been in this situation before.
“I have never played a game four days after a tragedy of this immense proportion. A lot of the focus around this game will not be the football match itself.
“It will be the occasion, the importance of everyone in the world showing we are not going to let the terrorists win. Terrorism is a major problem we have to face.
“We hope the ceremonies will be respected. If there is one thing that I truly wish for is that we show the respect I would expect every single Englishman to show.”