Belfast Telegraph

Payet's moment of magic gives French a dream start

France 2-1 Romania

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

After six years of build-up, and with 66 million people desperate for France to succeed, this was a night that could only have been emotional and spectacular. It even started with a ludicrous opening ceremony, the pitch covered in can-can dancers.

Even all those expectations, though, could do nothing to prepare anyone for how it ended.

France were seconds away from a 1-1 draw after a nervous, shaky performance.

Then Dimitri Payet decided otherwise, smacked the ball into the top corner from 25 yards and won the game 2-1.

He left the pitch seconds later in tears before France played out a win that exhausted everyone who watched.

It could not have been scripted better for the man who won the last selection battle in Didier Deschamps mind, playing out on the left of France's 4-3-3.

He was by a distance the best player on the pitch, inspiring their only good spell of play throughout, early in the second half, in which he set up Olivier Giroud's opening goal.

That spell aside this was a poor French performance, nervous and predictable in possession and clumsy at the back. Soon after going ahead Patrice Evra gave away a needless penalty, Bogdan Stancu converted it looked as if France had answers.

They did not, until Payet came up with one. Payet made the first good chance with a left-wing cross for Giroud but the Arsenal striker could not get his header on target from close range.

Then Antoine Griezmann hit the post with a header after a Bacary Sagna cross, a move started by a wonderful Paul Pogba pass. The first half, in which France really flickered only briefly, ended with Payet curling in an excellent corner kick which Giroud met but headed wide again.

It was not exactly a statement of intent. The second half started like the first, with France switching off and Romania missing a chance they could not afford to.

Stanciu clipped a clever cross over the top to the run of Stancu, played onside by Blaise Matuidi, and his one-movement chest and volley sent the ball flying just wide of the far post.

If this was a wake-up call then it worked, because it prompted a sharp improvement from France. And it was Payet, more than anyone else, who made this change, getting on the ball and playing in dangerous spaces, giving his team an extra edge.

First he played through Giroud, who shot at Ciprian Tatarasanu. Then he drafted down the left and stood up a cross which Pogba volleyed at the goalkeeper. Then, finally, he crossed from deep, inviting Giroud to head France into the lead.

There was a lot of relief and joy in the celebrations, for Giroud as much as for the fans.

But if it felt as if they had seen off any difficulty, and overcome their nerves, then that only lasted very briefly. Because France gifted away the lead.

There was no real threat to their goal from a bouncing ball but as Stanciu tried to run onto it Patrice Evra stood too close, hanging his leg out.

Stanciu took the invitation to go down and after some painful consideration Viktor Kassai gave the penalty. Stancu sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way.

The game was drifting towards a very poor point, with one minute to go, when Payet did on the grandest stage yet what he has been doing all season: turning the whole game on one swing of his boot.

Belfast Telegraph