Dimitri Payet scored a late winner for France as the hosts edged a stubborn Romania side to win the opening game of the 2016 European Championships 2-1. Olivier Giroud fired les Blues ahead after 57 minutes with a trademark header, before Patrice Evra bundled over Nicolae Stanciu in the Romanian box. Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot and Bogdan Stancu cooly tucked away the resulting penalty. The stage was set for a late winner and Payet duly supplied the late drama and sent the Stade de France into a frenzy.
France started brightly and looked dangerous on the attack in the opening periods. Paul Pogba dominated the midfield and it had all the indications that a long night was ahead for a Romanian team that set up to absorb the French pressure and play on the counter-attack. Pogba and N’golo Kante controlled the midfield all evening, averaging an 83% and 92% pass completion respectively, but for all their early domination, it was Romania who had the first chance of the game. Stanciu had a night to forget as he somehow managed to head a corner straight at the French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from point-blank range. The Romanians must have known it was a sign of things to come.
The hosts replied with the first real chance for Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud to make his mark on the game. Payet seemed to be at the heart of every French move and he whipped in a cross that landed just behind Giroud, with the big man unable to manoeuvre himself to get a shot on target and headed wide. France followed up with a carefully crafted move, Pogba playing a defence-splitting pass for Sagna down the right-flank, crossing to Antoinne Griezmann who could only hit the post. Both teams went into the break at 0-0 knowing that a goal couldn’t be far away.
The deadlock was finally broken on the fifty-seventh minute when Payet crossed for Giroud in a familiar combination that might be a regular feature of France at these championships. The quality on the ball from Payet was one that Premier League fans will be more than familiar with in his standout campaign for West Ham this season. France’s lead lasted for just eight minutes, however, as Patrice Evra brought down Stanciu in the French penalty box. Bogdan Stancu dispatched the resulting penalty cooly and brought Romania level.
A tense final period beckoned, France tried to stimulate an attacking threat by bringing Anthony Martial on for Pogba. Martial mustered a tame effort on target in just about the only attacking threat that France had to offer until Payet stepped up. Catapulted onto the international scene after just 18 appearances in five years, he will be the toast of the French population tonight. Picking up a neat ball from Kante in the 89th minute, Payet opened his body up and rifled a left-footed shot from 25 yards into the top-right corner. A thrilling end to a great opening night of European Championship football, a night that further enhanced the French’s odds of winning the tournament.
Speaking to TF1 after the match, Payet said: “many people, starting with myself did not think I would be here at the beginning of the season. All this is the result of hard work. “If someone had told me it would have gone like that I wouldn’t have believed it”. France are off to a flying start, and they are now 7/2 favourites to go on to win a tournament that looks well within their grasp after tonight’s showing.