Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Kingsley Coman, Anthony Martial – any one of those have the talent to be the stars of Euro 2016, such is the attacking talent at France's disposal. But in Dimtri Payet, France have someone even better, the magic-weaver, who not just create chances at will, but also scores a few spectacular goals.
In a match that France had to win, Payet came to the fore in sublime fashion, picking up the assist for Olivier Giroud's goal, before smashing home one of the goal of the tournament contenders to fire the hosts to a 2-1win in this opening Euro 2016 match at the Stade de France. Romania, for all their quality and fight – they came back from a goal down with Bogdan Stancu slotting home a penalty – were undone by the brilliance of one man – Dimitri Payet.
The first chance of the game fell to Romania, with Stancu getting a chance from point-blank range off a cross. However, his shot from a yard out was brilliantly saved by Hugo Lloris.
France took a while to get into the game, with Romania pressing them really well, closing down the man with the ball. That was good strategy from the Romanians, knowing that France would have wanted to get off to a quick start considering the occasion.
It took France about 15 minutes get a hold of the game, but once they did that sparkling attack of theirs created opportunities. Giroud first fired a header wide after some good work from the outstanding player of the game – Payet, before Antoine Griezmann was left wondering how he did not score. The Atletico Madrid forward missed an initial low cross from Bacary Sagna, and when the ball fell to him again off a rebound, his header struck the post, instead of rippling the net.
Payet was the creator extraordinaire for France, zipping in a ball to Griezmann with the France forward denied the opener thanks to some brilliance from Cristian Sapunaru. Giroud then really should have at least hit the target after getting a free header off a corner, just before halftime.
It remained 0-0, though, as the referee blew his whistle for the break, even if it would change once the match restarted. Twelve minutes into the second half, not long after Stancu had another brilliant chance come to nothing and Paul Pogba saw his volley saved, Giroud opened the scoring for France, finding a glancing header after overpowering the Romania goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu off a pass from, yup, you guessed it, Payet. It was awful goalkeeping from Tatarusanu, but Giroud deserves plenty of props for putting his head in the mixer and then making the right contact when the ball came to him.
France, though, would throw away the advantage eight minutes later, with Patrice Evra, one of the most experienced players on the pitch, needlessly giving the referee an opportunity to give a penalty. With Nicolae Stanciu looking to rush into the box, Evra stuck a leg out, Stanciu said thank you very much and fell over. Stancu stepped up to take the penalty, firing the ball calmly to Lloris' left.
Try as they might, France just could not gain control after conceding that equaliser, and with Payet unable to get enough touches as the minutes rolled on, Romania looked more and more comfortable.
Didier Deschamps, expectedly brought the pace of Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial into play, but it was that man Payet who made the difference, again, thumping home a left-footed strike from the edge of the box on 89 minutes to send the Stade de France and an entire nation into phew-that-was-close-ecstasy.