France 2 Romania 1: Payet gets the party started

Stunning late winner from West Ham star gets hosts off to perfect start


France 2 Romania 1

They will need luck, to judge by this performance, if they are to emulate the feats of 1984 and ‘98 but they have potential match winners, that’s for sure with Dimitri Payet the first to step and deliver a victory that keeps France on course for top spot in Group A and the pre-prepared route to this tournament’s latter stages.

Payet was the game’s outstanding influence from beginning to end and the goal with which he won the game for the hosts in the closing minutes is bound to be right up there with the championship’s best in a month’s time. Didier Deschamps’ men, though, will have to be a good deal better than this by the time they reach the knockout rounds if they are genuinely to make a lasting impressing on the competition. Romania deserve considerable credit for the way in which they tested the hosts but against a better side the French will not be able to afford to be either so wasteful in attack or disorganised in defence.

Olivier Giroud gave them a lead that they really should have been able to build on early in the second half but his finishing was generally disappointing, which would have mattered more had the Romanians been able to make more of their own chances.

The French will surely be good enough to push on and win this group but there was plenty for the sceptics to point to here as evidence that they are just not good enough to win make a hat-trick of tournament successes on home soil.

Primarily, the side’s defensive problems are so glaring that it was difficult to see here how they survived even to the break without conceding. Patrice Evra, in particular, looked a soft target for the Romanians who repeatedly swept past him down the right. Long before that, though, before the game had even got going in earnest Bogdan Stancu should have put his side in front when the two French centre backs made a hames of defending a corner and Hugo Lloris was fortunate the close range shot from the far post was struck almost directly at him.

Throw in Laurent Koscielny’s clumsy swipe at Florin Andone, which might well have resulted in a spot kick six minutes before the break, and the sleepy stand-about stuff that greeted Stancu beating the offside trap to get onto Nicolae Stanciu’s wonderfully weighted lobbed ball into the box a little after it and the locals somehow managed to have reason to be thankful for still being on level terms almost 60 minutes of a game in which had the better of the possession and created the bulk of the chances.

Going forward, with almost boundless energy and fun-filled enterprise, it was easy to see why so many pundits have pointed to them as decent prospects. Ngolo Kanté may take a chance or two too many at times when under pressure in possession but like almost everybody in front of him in this side he can certainly pick out a pass and some of the French attacking play at pace was simply thrilling to watch.

Payet and, initially, Antoine Griezmann were electrifying at times but the Atletico star’s performance may be best remembered for a glaring miss in the first half and the 25-year-old faded from view in the early stages of the second before making way for Kingsley Coman.

The West Ham man, though, continued to shine and after so many attempts by the French to unlock the Romanian defence with the perfectly placed through ball, it was his floated cross that eventually handed Giroud with a chance he could finish. The striker’s leading arm may have blocked Ciprian Tatarusanu’s attempt to gather but after couple of missed opportunities, the striker still put it away well.

And that should have been that with France, it seemed, now in a strong position to take control of a game their opponents would have to start chasing. But Evra was an accident waiting to happen and a clearcut foul on Stanciu handed Anghel Iordanescu’s side a spot kick and Stancu rather coolly converted.

The setback seemed to knock the wind out of the French. Payet took care of that, though, less than two minutes from time when Kanté found him with a brilliant pass and he topped it with a stunning touch at strike that evaded a converging sea of yellow shirts as it soared towards the top left corner.

Moments later, as the match entered added time, the 29 year-old was replaced and left the field with tears in his eyes. For France, the outpouring of emotion might just be getting started.

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