by LIAM RICHNER
France 2 – 1 Romania, Group A
Ever since the Paris terror attacks last November, there has been a casting shadow over the European Championships taking place in France this summer. Extra security has been recruited to stop any further plots to ruin what should be a celebration of the best football Europe has to offer.
Tonight, the tournament finally got underway in Saint-Denis as host nation France began with a crucial win against Romania.
Without a shadow of a doubt the best player on the park was Dimitri Payet, who was a constant threat. The magician had all the tricks up his sleeve and it was his magical delivery that got the opening goal of the tournament for Olivier Giroud just before the hour mark.
His performance oozed with the confidence he carried around with him at West Ham United last season, and he quickly became France’s major danger man on what was proving a difficult night for the home nation and tournament favourites.
The night was made more difficult when Romania where awarded a penalty ten minutes later. Bogdan Stancu fired the penalty into the bottom right corner to what looked liked secure a crucial point for his side.
But with just two minutes to go, the winger became the nation’s hero with a scrumptious effort that blitzed the top corner and sent a country into ecstasy.
The Stade de France was almost at full capacity as a nation expected nothing but success, a pressure the French seemed to feel on their shoulders before the goal, which seemed to relax the nerves.
Didier Deschamps and company want to win the trophy not just for the fans, but for the victims of the horrors of late last year, but they could have found themselves behind after just four minutes.
Bogdan Stancu found himself in plenty of room just three yards out but somehow the ever reliant Hugo Lloris made himself big in the France goal to keep out the Romanian striker’s effort. Definitely don’t expect that to be the last time the spurs stopper gets the favourites out of trouble over the next few weeks.
From the resulting corner, Florin Andone met the ball at the near post and his header fell just over the bar.
After 10 minutes, Les Bleus finally got ticking, and a cross from Payet was attacked by Arsenal frontman Giroud, but the big striker could only force the ball wide.
Atletico’s Antoine Greizmann, labelled as one of France’s most crucial players should they go on to make a mark on this tournament, then hit the post for the hosts with a quick instinctive header of his own. With ten minutes before half-time the forward had another good opportunity, but he could only fire Payet’s squared ball the wrong side of the post.
With the game 0-0 at half time, you’d have expected the French to come out all guns blazing to get the stadium rocking, but in fact the complete opposite occurred, and once again the visitors spurned a great chance to be party poopers.
Stancu made a well timed run and took the ball on the chest but couldn’t match either run or touch with the finish, and instead blasted the ball wide of the goal.
Up the other end, Giroud came again for France, but his shot was straight at Romania goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu.
The Fiorentina stopper was busy again soon, as once again Payet unlocked the door for the hosts, and his ball across was volleyed straight at the keeper.
The pressure was finally made to count, and on 58 minutes Giroud headed Payet’s cross into the net ahead of Tătăruşanu.
It was nearly two for Les Blues but Pogba couldn’t get near Giroud’s flick after another testing cross from Payet.
But just as France began to dictate play, Romania were given a penalty when Patrice Evra tripped Stancu, and in front of the Romanian fans, he cooly slotted the penalty home to silence the home fans.
With not much going their way, it looked like a draw was well on the cards before Payet decided to turn the game on it’s head on 88 minutes. He cut inside from the right and lashed home a scorching strike into the top left hand corner. A goal fitting for his performance on the pitch.