Birthday boy Dimitri Payet furthers France credentials
West Ham’s magician scored stunning free kick as Euro 2016 hosts beat Russia 4-2
Dimitri Payet scored a stunning free-kick as France beat Russia 4-2. Photograph: Reuters
Dimitri Payet staked his Euro 2016 claims with a sumptuous strike for France that he called a “beautiful birthday present”.
The West Ham midfielder came off the bench in the second half against Russia on Tuesday night and moments later curled in a brilliant 30-yard free-kick.
It put France 3-1 clear, and they went on to win 4-2 at the Stade de France.
Now Payet, who turned 29 on Tuesday, is hoping to persuade France boss Didier Deschamps to include him in his plans for the tournament Les Bleus host this summer.
“It’s a beautiful 29th birthday present,” Payet said.
“The free-kick was my first touch, I’ve been a bit lucky.”
As for whether it has helped his cause, former Marseille man Payet said on the French Football Federation website: “I don’t know if I’ve scored any points, I tried to do the best I could. If I don’t go to the Euros? I’ll be disappointed but it’s the same for every player.”
Leicester midfielder N’Golo Kante also scored a birthday goal, netting the opener to mark his celebrations of reaching 25.
Antoine Griezmann made way to allow Payet on in the 62nd minute, and the Atletico Madrid striker is a shoo-in for the Euros.
France are strongly fancied to do well, 18 years after lifting the World Cup with home advantage.
However Griezmann is being cautious and said: “We still have some friendly matches to work in. Attacking-wise we’ve done some great things, defensively we have to work because we’ve left in four goals in two matches.”
A 3-2 win over Holland in Amsterdam last Friday showed France have the firepower to do well, but equally have weaknesses at the back.
Kante may fortify them through his role as a midfield destroyer, having done particularly well in that role for Leicester in the Premier League this season.
Deschamps said: “He’s a small guy who’s always smiling. The squad have done everything to help him and on the pitch he didn’t look worried. It wasn’t obvious that it was his first start.
“He’s done some very good things. It’s interesting, which doesn’t mean that those who haven’t played don’t have qualities, but he’s continued what he’s done with his club and tonight it was at international level.”
Romania, Albania and Switzerland are France’s group-stage opponents in the finals.