PARIS – More than 1,700 security personnel were on patrol Tuesday as France beat Russia on its return to the Stade de France, four months after its last home game was targeted by suicide bombers.
A pre-match minute of silence to remember Europe’s latest terrorist attack in Belgium served as a jarring reminder of the security challenges facing France as it prepares to host the European Championship in less than three months.
There was also intense security in Portugal, which hosted Belgium for a friendly fixture that was hurriedly moved from Brussels after airport and subway bombings in the city last week killed 35 people. Belgium’s players commemorated the victims by wearing special T-shirts before their 2-1 loss.
The peaceful friendly in Paris, which France won 4-2, was in marked contrast to the night in November when its game against Germany was among the targets in coordinated attacks across the city that killed 130 people. One bystander was killed when suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Stade de France.
In a show of force on Tuesday, 575 police officers and 1,200 private security guards were deployed at the national stadium.
But there was much to celebrate on the field for France as N’Golo Kante marked his first start by scoring the opener, continuing the fine form that has seen Leicester surprisingly surge to the top of the Premier League.
“He played without being hung-up,” said France coach Didier Deschamps. “This is just the beginning. He is building on the momentum of what he has been doing with his club at international level.”
Another Premier League sensation, West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, netted directly from a free kick two minutes after coming on for France, whose other goals were supplied by Andre-Pierre Gignac and Kingsley Coman.
In Munich, Germany ended a near 21-year wait for a victory over Italy with an emphatic 4-1 win. Mario Goetze, who hasn’t played for Germany since sustaining a groin injury in October, marked his international return by heading in the second goal.
“It was simply important to be able to play again after such a long injury, simply to be able to do what’s fun for me,” Goetze said.
Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Jonas Hector were also on target for the World Cup holders in what was a quick recovery following Saturday’s stunning loss to England in Berlin.
The English were given a reality check with a much-changed team at Wembley Stadium where the Netherlands won 2-1. Jamie Vardy finished off a flowing team move to put England ahead just before halftime, the second England goal in three days for the Premier League’s top scorer with Leicester.
But the Netherlands, which hasn’t qualified for the first 24-team Euros, leveled five minutes into the second half through Vincent Janssen’s penalty. The striker then barged defender Phil Jagielka off the ball and crossed for Luciano Narsingh to sidefoot home the Dutch winner.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t reach the same level of creativity and intensity as we did on Saturday,” England coach Roy Hodgson said.
The match was preceded by a minute of silence for the Brussels victims, with the Wembley announcer highlighting soccer’s ability to be a force for good that unites the world.
In the Portuguese city of Leiria, Belgium’s players wore special jerseys to remember those killed in Brussels. The shirts read: “In memory of all victims, Brussels 22.03.2016.”
In the game, first-half goals from Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo secured Portugal’s victory, while Romelu Lukaku pulled one back for a lackluster Belgium side after the break with a header.