Playing through pain: The heartbreaking story of the French soccer star defying the Islamic State

Hub Telegram: Lassana Diarra had waited more than five years for this moment. For the chance to don the French tricolor again. For the chance to play in the Stade de France, his country’s cathedral of soccer.

For the chance to play once more in Paris, the city of his birth.

At just 30 years old, Diarra had already experienced sporting heaven and hell. He had risen from obscurity to the height of footballing fame, making a fortune playing for several of the top teams in the world. Then he had fallen hard, ending up without a team at all, forced to train with amateurs and contemplating retirement.

Now he was back. Back on the national team for a friendly against world champion Germany on Friday night. Back in the spotlight: starting in the center of the pitch in front of 75,000 fans.

The game started so well. Diarra, a short midfielder with a boyish face and shaved head, did what he does best. He played simply on offense and tackled stoutly on defense.

With nearly 22 minutes gone, Diarra corralled a loose ball and played it wide to a teammate. A moment later, he passed it the other way, motioning for another teammate to move the ball up the field.

Then the bomb went off.

A loud boom shook the Stade de France, sending a roar through the startled crowd. Most people thought it was fireworks.

Three minutes later: another boom, this time so loud the players looked up in surprise.

Still, the game went on.

Diarra didn’t know it yet, but the Islamic State had just waged war on his home city. Men armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests had struck in coordinated attacks across Paris, killing at least 129 people.


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