Euro 2016 roundup: Magnificent Payet rescues France

Opening games for host countries are always so difficult as James Sharman breaks down the tight victory by France over Romania on Day 1 at Euro 2016.

Here’s what happened on Friday on the opening day of UEFA Euro 2016 in France, in case you missed it…

Read match reports: Payet’s stunner salvages France win
Match stats: France 2, Romania 1 in Saint-Denis

Payet to the rescue for Les Bleus: Most of the pre-game hype for France focused on Paul Pogba, the mercurial Juventus man that has been touted as one of the best midfielders in the world. But Pogba was pretty subdued in this one—it didn’t help his cause that he was deployed on right side of midfield, instead of on the left where he’s accustomed to playing—before being subbed out in the second half.

Step forward Dimitri Payet, the West Ham United midfielder who was among the best players in the Premier League this season. Payet was the driving force behind a rather stale French attack on this day, unlocking the Romanian defence with his deft touch, sublime vision and probing runs. His playmaking skills were on full display in this one, as he created eight scoring chances. It was Payet’s perfectly delivered ball into the box in the 57th minute that Olivier Giroud nodded home to break the deadlock.

Romania held firm and began to boss the game, equalizing eight minutes later. The visitors looked set to earn a share of the points when Payet took matters into his own hands, conjuring a goal out of nothing. The West Ham United’s star curling shot in the 89th minute was world class, allowing the French to escape with three points when, on the balance of play, a draw would have been a fair result.

Giroud has to do better: Not to dump too much on Olivier Giroud—he did score the opening goal, after all—but the Arsenal man was pretty wasteful in this game. He could have easily netted a hat trick after 51 minutes; instead, he squandered three quality scoring chances, including a free header late in the opening half that he didn’t even put on target. Comically, he completed just two passes in the first half, and one of them was the opening kickoff!

French manager Didier Deschamps took a bold step in leaving Karim Benzema off his squad due to the infamous sex tape scandal—this despite the French public including for Benzema’s inclusion after he enjoyed a sensational club season with Real Madrid. In light of this, the Arsenal man has to deliver to prove Giroud didn’t make a mistake in leaving Benzema at home.

Giroud is the type of forward who needs three chances to score just one. He can get away with that in the Premier League over the course of a 38-game season. But his wastefulness could cost France in the knockout stages of this tournament when chances will be few and far between.

MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.

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Profiles: All 24 teams || History of Euro || Top 10 moments in Euro history
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With the game tied 1-1, Dimitri Payet stepped up in the 89th minute, unleashing a thunder-bolt of a shot from 20 yards out that curled by Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu and nestled inside the left corner.

Romania earned a corner kick in the fourth minute. Nicolae Stanciu’s cross landed at the feet of Bogdan Stancu, whose shot from the edge of the six-yard box forced a stop by French goalkeeper Hiugo Lloris. It was aimed right at Lloris, but he still did well to make a reflex save from point-blank range.


The sell-out crowd at Saint-Denis belted out a boisterous and heart-felt version of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, prior to kickoff. It was especially poignant in light of the terrorist attacks on Paris last November.

“If someone had told me a year ago it would be happening this way, I wouldn’t have believed them.” — Dimitri Payet


• At 19 years and 362 days, Kingsley Coman is the youngest player to appear for France in a major tournament.
• Olivier Giroud has now scored eight goals in his last six starts for France.
• Romania has never won its opening game at a European Championship finals tournament (three draws and two losses).
• Romania only has one clean sheet in its 14 games at the European Championship.
• France has won seven and drawn one of their previous eight tournament games at the Stade de France.
• Dimitri Payet is the first France player with a goal and an assist in a Euro game since Thierry Henry in 2000.
Stats courtesy of Opta


1) Dimitri Payet, France: The best player on the pitch by quite some distance—oozed class with his deft touch. Set up one goal, and scored the later winner.
2) N’Golo Kante, France: Like he did with Leicester City this season, was absolutely immense in running himself ragged. Set up the winning goal.
3) Nicolae Stanciu, Romania: Was at the heart of most of Romania’s attacking moves. Earned the penalty and then converted from the spot.

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