France have made a perfect start to the UEFA European Under-21 Championship with a 1-0 victory against hosts Portugal in Braga.
The only goal of the Group A contest came in the 41st minute when Stade Rennais FC striker Jimmy Briand's header struck the bar and crossed the line via Portugal goalkeeper Bruno Vale. It was Briand whose penalty had seen off England in the play-offs, and his assist for the own goal was reward for a lively performance in tandem with Florent Sinama-Pongolle.
Portugal were boosted when Ricardo Quaresma overcame a foot injury to start. But it was the 'visitors' who were to have the first opportunity in the tenth minute when Briand found space on the right of the penalty area, only to lift his shot over the bar. With a quarter of an hour gone, Quaresma was cautioned for a foul. Seconds later, he floated a free-kick towards goal. Just as the ball looked like dropping over the line, goalkeeper Steve Mandanda palmed it to safety.
France were still dangerous. A Julien Faubert shot appeared goalbound only for Portuguese debutant Rolando to head clear. Then, in the 35th minute, Raul Meireles lost possession in his own half. The ball found its way to Sinama-Pongolle and he fired in a left-footed effort that cannoned off Bruno Vale's right-hand post. The No1 then expertly parried Rio Antonio Mavuba's follow-up.
A goal was coming. Five minutes later, Faubert's free-kick was headed goalwards by Briand, under pressure from Rolando. The ball hit the bar, bounced down and went in off the hapless Bruno Vale. It was no more than France deserved and Portugal and Quaresma knew they would have to attack in the second period.
The FC Porto playmaker was everywhere and, soon after the interval, his deep cross found Hugo Almeida, celebrating his 22nd birthday, in front of goal but he could not keep his header on target. France were on the back foot but firmly in control, indicated by the arrival just after the hour of Mathieu Flamini and then Lassana Diarra for Faubert and Yoann Gourcuff respectively.
As the game moved into its final third, the sell-out crowd found their voice and Portugal pushed further forward. Briand and Rolando were booked as tempers flared and the match became more disjointed. However, France remained solid in defence and ably frustrated home efforts until the final whistle. They are next in action on Thursday against Germany, 1-0 winners against Serbia and Montenegro earlier today, when the two losers on this opening day of the finals will also meet.
Carlsberg Man of the Match: Jimmy Briand