He came weeping off the field with one minute left for the match and made way for Moussa Sissoko in the injury time. But Dimitri Payet had done his job. The playmaker was all over the field in France’s opening match against Romania. Much before his 89th minute left-footed curler from 25 meters gave the 2-1 win for the hosts, Payet had sent that cross to Olivier Giroud, who opened the scoring for France. Payet had also fed another great cross to Antoine Griezmann but the striker could only find the woodwork. And when an unmarked Olivier Giroud headed wide on one occasion from close range, it was none other than Payet, who had managed the cross to the French striker. Thus, it was Payet’s day all the way, except those few minutes of stoppage time and he was the perfect choice for the player-of-the-match award.
On Friday June 10, the 2016 Euro Championship opened to an emotionally charged atmosphere at the Stade de France. The seven-month old memory of suicide bombers trying to get inside the stadium during a France-Germany friendly was still fresh in the minds of the jam-packed crowd that had gathered to watch the Euro 2016 opener. They didn’t forget the 130 people, who lost their lives across the city of Paris on that fateful night even as French DJ David Guetta headlined a wonderful opening ceremony just before kick-off. But the start of the match wasn’t good for the hosts. They conceded a corner in the 4th minute and Romania’s Florin Andone managed to send the flick to the back post. His colleague Bogdan Stancu was ready at close range but his point-blank shot was brilliantly saved by French captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. France picked up the pieces after the narrow escape. A lively Griezmann won a brilliant slide tackle and the ball reached Paul Pogba and from him to Payet and back to Griezmann. But Griezmann’s shot was deflected behind by the Romanian goalkeeper. Payet’s corner came back to him and he created space around him for a lobbed cross over Giroud’s head. But the header flew wide. By this time, the French players had found their footing and they began playing in the Romanian half, though on a few occasions, Romanians also came back menacingly before the first half ended goalless.
Within two minutes from the break, Stancu had a golden chance to put Romania in front. He took control as he cushioned the ball on his chest before launching off. But to his bad luck, the ball couldn’t find the target. Yet again France collected themselves and improved their ball possession. Payet had been tearing off Romanian defense from the start and he kept doing the same as the game moved along. This was the same player, who almost fell out of favor, when France’s starting line-up was being worked out. Payet had been feeding balls to the forwards but they couldn’t capitalize on his build-up. But Payet’s good work met with its due reward in the 57th minute. France got a corner, which the Romanians cleared. The hard-working Payet collected the ball on the right and floated it inside the box. The Romanian goalkeeper Tatarusanu rose to his full height for the clearance but was beaten in the air by Giroud, whose header found the net at the top corner. Stade de France went into rapturous jubilations.
However, that lead didn’t last long. In the next eight minutes, France conceded a penalty, when Stancu was wrongly brought down by Evra even as the Romanian was storming into the box with the ball. It was as clear a penalty as any and Stancu got his revenge. French coach Didier Deschamps reacted angrily and pulled out Griezmann and Pogba from the field and sent in Kingsley Coman and Martial as substitutes. Not that the subs made any material difference but Deschamps wanted the change regardless. The only man, who didn’t look tired, was Payet and he continued to create chances. And finally he made the decisive difference one minute from regulation time. The incredible midfielder cut in from the right and manufactured a left-footed bullet that curled into the top corner. Payer is not a natural left-footer but he didn’t have the time to shift the ball to his right foot. After his valiant 89-minute stay on the field, Deschamps replaced him with Moussa Sissoko for the few minutes of play time. Payet came out in tears and got a wholesome applause. Soon the match was over as well. France had won 2-1 against Romania in the opening fixture of Euro 2016.
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