By Julien Pretot
DIMITRI Payet’s spectacular late strike earned France a 2-1 win over Euro 2016 Group A rivals Romania on Friday, giving the host nation a flying start to their campaign.
Payet played chief tormentor at the Stade de France as he set up Olivier Giroud for the opening goal after the break and then curled a superb left-footer into the top corner of the net with one minute left after Bogdan Stancu had equalised for Romania.
After dominating their opponents in the warm-up friendlies, Didier Deschamps’ team failed to ignite in the first half of their first competitive match for two years.
They looked set for an opening draw until Payet took the ball on the right flank, cut inside and struck a venemous drive to send the crowd into raptures.
The West Ham United midfielder, who was not even certain of a place in the France squad a few months ago, walked off the pitch in tears and was given a rousing ovation after delivering a world-class performance.
France made a shaky start with keeper Hugo Lloris saving well from Stancu at the far post in the fourth minute.
A reaction finally came in the 11th minute when Giroud’s header from a Payet cross went just wide.
Lacking the speed and goal instinct that helped them net 13 times in their four previous matches, Les Bleus were a pale shadow of the side who breezed past their recent opponents.
Facing a defence that conceded just twice in the qualifiers, France created a few chances though.
A Bacary Sagna cross bounced off Vlad Chiriches’ chest into the path of Antoine Griezmann whose header from point-blank range smashed into keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu’s left post.
Payet then whizzed down the right flank and Griezmann latched on to his centre but it took a slight deflection and went narrowly wide.
On the stroke of halftime Giroud’s header from Payet’s corner went just over the bar.
France’s first shot on target came seven minutes into the second half, Giroud’s low shot from a clever Payet through ball being blocked by Tatarusanu who then parried a powerful 18-metre volley by Paul Pogba.
In the 57th minute Payet sent a cross into the box and Giroud headed the ball under the bar for his eighth goal in six internationals, silencing his critics after being booed in several matches earlier this season.
Eight minutes later Stancu was handed the chance to level after Patrice Evra’s silly foul on Nicolae Stanciu and, facing the Romania fans behind Lloris’ goal, calmly slotted home.
Deschamps replaced Griezmann with the speedy Kingsley Coman and the disappointing Pogba with Anthony Martial but the two youngsters made little impact.
France next take on Albania on Wednesday.