LONDON • There are some moments in sport that make all the cynicism and aggravation worthwhile, and an impeccably behaved Wembley Stadium was treated to one on Tuesday.
A match that had threatened to be an afterthought will be remembered for at least one footballing element as a result of Dele Alli's stunning first international goal, which also provided a timely reminder as to why so many people bother with sport's glorious diversions.
It would be unwise - and unseemly in the circumstances - to get too carried away by England's 2-0 victory in the friendly over a France side whose minds were understandably elsewhere following the deadly attacks in Paris last Friday night. But, for all the caveats, one aspect of the evening seems uncontestable.
Roy Hodgson has found a real player, with the usually circumspect England manager going as far as to give Alli's display the highest praise - "almost faultless".
"That was as close as you can get to it. He was quite outstanding. I guess he will get a lot of praise and he certainly deserves it," said Hodgson.
The 19-year-old, man of the match on an emotional evening, scored his stunning goal after 39 minutes on his first start, finishing off a move he started with a 25m thunderbolt past his Tottenham Hotspur club-mate and France captain Hugo Lloris.
"That was something special, I'm delighted to score it, but I am not thinking about the European Championship or the World Cup yet. I've got plenty to learn to stay in the England team," he said after winning his fourth cap.
"It was a fantastic goal," Lloris admitted. "
There were moans that Alli had not earned his stripes when he was called up for England's final two Euro qualifiers last month after making only seven Premier League appearances, but no one is complaining now.
Alli looks like the complete midfield player, as his decisive contributions demonstrated. He won the ball before scoring England's first goal, and again emerged with possession from a crunching challenge by Paul Pogba to start the attack that led to Wayne Rooney scoring his 51st international goal with a volley in the 48th minute.
"Its magical to be 19 and score your first goal for England like that," said Rooney of Alli's effort.
As much as Alli's excellent individual performance, along with those of Eric Dier, Nathaniel Clyne, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, Hodgson was also delighted with how his side adapted to a style of play designed to bring the best out of the youngest side England have fielded since 1959, with the average age less than 24.
France went through the motions but winning was not their priority. They were in London because they had been asked to be there, and because of what it symbolised. It was perfectly understandable there were parts of the night when they played like they were sleepwalking.
Forward Anthony Martial, 19, hobbled out of Wembley on crutches after suffering a foot injury midway through the second half and is now a doubt for Manchester United's Premier League match against Watford on Saturday.
France coach Didier Deschamps played down the extent of the injury. But it will be a concern for United manager Louis van Gaal because Martial has emerged as a key player for the English club this season, scoring five goals in 14 appearances since his £56 million (S$121.4 million) move from Monaco.
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN