France heaved a collective sigh of relief when Dimitri Payet slammed in the 89th minute winner in the opening game of Euro 2016 against Romania.
Not only did that goal mask a largely unconvincing performance by France, but it also gave the host nation three crucial points that has more or less taken them halfway towards qualification for the round of 16.
The Romanians gave France a real scare at certain points of the match, even managing to silence a nervous Stade de France crowd. However, goals from Premier League stars Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet got Didier Deschamp’s team to the safety of three points. Let’s take a look at some key points from the match.
The Dimitri Payet Show
There is just no better way to describe the match. West Ham United playmaker Dimitry Payet was the star of the show on Friday night, as the Euros kicked off at the Stade de France. There were much bigger stars than him on the pitch for France, but it was the 29-year-old who dictated play for most of the game.
Payet played an incredible eight key passes in the match, going on to help set up the opening goal of the tournament for Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud to head in, and then scoring the winner himself, late in the second half. Payet certainly silenced any doubter who might have thought that Deschamps should have started with Martial or Kingsley Coman, rather than the 29-year-old.
Player Rating: 9/10
Giroud shows a lot of character
Olivier Giroud has received some criticism over the last week or so, as he has been unable to sparkle up front for France. Up until the first half, it looked as if the Arsenal striker will have yet another night to forget in a Le Bleu shirt.
However, Giroud answered most of his critics on the 57th minute, as he brilliantly headed in a cross from Payet while under immense pressure from Romania goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu. In fact, Giroud exhibited a good conversion rate, as he scored one goal from the two shots on target that he had during the entire game.
However, one would still question his chemistry with the France playmakers, who created many more chances that the Arsenal man actually took. An optimistic mind would say that the cohesion (or the lack of it) will be ironed out, as Giroud plays more games with the likes of Payet and Griezmann.
Player Rating: 7.5/10
Deschamps still figuring out his best team
France looked a little rusty in certain parts of the match, but it is probably a good sign that they are capable of coming out with a win even when they are not playing their best football.
While his decision to field Payet ahead of the likes of Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman would have won him many accolades, his decision to play Griezmann out wide might have backfired to some extent.
The 25-year-old has been instrumental playing up front for Atletico Madrid last season, and perhaps would have been more effective if played as a second striker with Giroud. It will be interesting to see whether Deschamps tweaks certain aspects of France’s style in their next game against Albania.
Romanian hopes lie on Stanciu’s shoulders
Although they lost, Romania can come out of the match with their heads held high, as they managed to give France a real run for their money. A team that is playing in the tournament for the first time in 16 years in not expected to pose much of a challenge for the host nation, who are also one of the favourites to win the tournament. However, the Romanians showed that they have not come to the tournament to be mere passengers.
Their star player of the night was 23-year-old Nicolae Stanciu, who won them the penalty on the 65th minute. Being called the new Gheorghe Hagi is a great honour for any player from the country, and Stanciu proved on Friday that he is the man to carry the legacy of Romania’s no.10 jersey forward.
Player Rating: 7.5/10
There has been a lot of hype around Juventus star Paul Pogba ahead of the start of the tournament. The 23-year-old has won back-to-back league and cup doubles with Juventus, and has been marked as one of the men to watch out for during the tournament.
However, Pogba was mostly ineffective during the Romania game, failing to assert himself in the middle of the park. While he did not look happy when he was taken off for Martial on the 77th minute, there was no denying the fact that the Juventus star, who was dispossessed twice during the game, could have done much better. Deschamps had spoken ahead of the game, saying that Pogba needs to simplify his game. Perhaps the 23-year-old is still getting used to Deschamps’s way.
Player Rating: 6/10