Dimitri Payet was France’s hero as his stunning late strike earned the hosts a deserved 2-1 victory over Romania in their Euro 2016 opener on Friday.
Les Bleus were staring down the barrel of a frustrating draw in the Group A contest at the Stade de France with Bogdan Stancu’s penalty cancelling out Olivier Giroud’s 57th-minute opener.
But with the clock winding down, West Ham star Payet – France’s outstanding player on the night – curled in a brilliant left-footed effort from 25 yards to seal all three points.
It was a deserved win for Didier Deschamps’ team and Payet was at the heart of all their best attacking play, the 29-year-old having also provided the assist for Olivier Giroud to head home an eighth goal in his past six international starts.
France’s margin of victory could have been greater with Giroud at times wasteful and Antoine Griezmann hitting the post in the first half.
But Didier Deschamps will be thrilled with the victory, as well as Payet’s dazzling performance.
For all the attacking talent at France’s disposal, concerns over their defence have been highlighted in the build-up to the tournament.
And those worries were evident in the fourth minute when Nicolae Stanciu’s corner was flicked to the back post where Stancu was denied inside the six-yard box by a stunning save from Hugo Lloris.
France survived the shaky start and Giroud should have done better with a header from eight yards that he put past the left-hand post following good work from Payet.
Griezmann then went even closer, the Atletico Madrid forward nodding against the right post after Bacary Sagna’s teasing delivery bounced off Vlad Chiriches.
Les Bleus were frustrated again 10 minutes before the break when Payet’s fizzed cross was met by Griezmann only for a crucial touch from Cristian Sapunaru to take the ball wide.
The missed chances almost proved costly early in the second half as Stanciu clipped a delicious ball into Stancu, who could only volley wide when unmarked in the area.
France again found their rhythm, though, and the superb Payet bamboozled the Romania defence with a clever dummy before teeing up the unusually subdued Paul Pogba to volley at Ciprian Tatarusanu from the edge of the box.
From the resulting corner France finally went ahead. Payet received a short one to cross from the right and Giroud bravely headed into the left-hand corner under pressure from Tatarusanu.
The lead lasted just eight minutes, though, as Patrice Evra was penalised for a clumsy barge on Stanciu in the area and Stancu coolly converted the penalty low to his right.
Giroud saw tentative penalty claims of his own for a tug from Chiriches waved away by referee Viktor Kassai, but France were not to be denied.
With just one minute of normal time remaining, Payet picked up the ball on the right and bent an unstoppable effort past Tatarusanu into the top left-hand corner, before weeping tears of joy as he was replaced late on.
Key Opta stats:
– Dimitri Payet is the first French player to score and assist in a European finals game since Thierry Henry in 2000 (vs Czech Republic).
– Three of Payet’s four goals for France have come in the 89th minute or later.
– France have now won all six of the European Championship finals matches on home turf (five in 1984, one in 2016).
– Romania have never won their opening game at a European Championship finals tournament (D3 L2).
– Romania conceded the same number of goals in this match (2) as they did in their entire Euro 2016 qualification campaign (2).