Dimitri Payet's splendid 89th-minute goal earned hosts France a 2-1 Group A victory against Romania in the opening game of UEFA EURO 2016.
Though France were arguably superior for much of the tournament curtain-raiser – Antoine Griezmann struck a post and Olivier Giroud twice headed wide when unmarked at close range in the first half – Romania had clear chances to open the scoring at the start of either half.
Both opportunities fell to Bogdan Stancu, who snuck in unnoticed at the back post after just four minutes to meet a flicked-on corner but could only bundle his shot against Hugo Lloris. The Romania No19 failed even to test the keeper three minutes into the second period after ghosting into space and controlling adeptly before scissor-kicking wide.
For him, though – much like for Giroud – it was to be third time lucky. France's target man had put Didier Deschamps' men in front when he finally headed one of Payet's many pinpoint crosses on target. It was unfortunate for Romania keeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu, who had repelled everything thrown at him including a fierce Paul Pogba volley moments earlier.
Eight minutes later, however, his side were level, Stancu keeping his cool in front of the yellow mass of Romanian fans to convert from the spot after Patrice Evra had felled Nicolae Stanciu.
We looked to be heading for a fifth draw in six competitive meetings between the teams before Payet bent in a delightful shot to sent the Stade de France into raptures.
Man of the match: Dimitri Payet
The playmaker moved above Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimović to No1 on the Player Barometer after a fine display capped off with that magical goal. He also laid on an assist, created eight chances and delivered 13 crosses. The conductor who made France sing.
Giroud there for a reason
France's No9 has not always had an amicable relationship with the Stade de France crowd and the frustration must have been mounting for him as the chances went begging. He did finally find the target, though – a well-deserved goal to complement his all-round display – and if not as dynamic as many of his team-mates, he remains the perfect physical presence that Deschamps so evidently requires. He's now got eight in eight games for his country, too.
France really are favourites
They were made to sweat for this win, admittedly, but France's star-studded line-up did not disappoint. Pogba was effortlessly dynamic, N'Golo Kanté was relentless and Payet on another level. All the pre-tournament talk had been about there being no overwhelming favourite to lift the trophy, but anyone who stops Les Bleus really must have a good side.
Eerie echoes of EURO '96
Hosts go in front with goal from No9? Check. For Giroud see Alan Shearer. Opponents handed a penalty thanks to the home side's left-back? Check. For Patrice Evra see Stuart Pearce. Twenty years on, however, there was a sting in the tail and it did not end 1-1.
Team reporters' views from the Stade de France
David Crossan, France (@UEFAcomDavidC)
Giroud's goal was one all of France had been waiting for and I expected Les Bleus to kick on from there. Payet set up Giroud and, no doubt, was the hosts' most creative player. Romania had a couple of clear opportunities at the beginning of each half before equalising and were obdurate opposition. France must work on their finishing and tighten up defensively before facing Albania in Marseille in five days' time. It was not the most fluent French display, though they will feel they warranted the three points.
Paul-Daniel Zaharia, Romania (@UEFAcomPaulDZ)
As someone fortunate enough to have been at both this match and the teams' group stage meeting at UEFA EURO 2008, this was easily the more entertaining duel. Either side could have won it and Romania – despite the late blow – executed their tactical plan very well indeed. Who knows what will follow, but Romania showed tonight that they have a puncher's chance.
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