Tournament favourites France beat 2-1 Romania in the opening match of the 2016 European Championships at the Stade de France, thanks to Dimitri Payet’s stunning late goal.
Olivier Giroud opened the scoring for Les Bleus with a second half header, but Bogdan Stancu levelled from the penalty spot just over five minutes later after he was brought down in the box by Patrice Evra.
However, Payet launched a fantastic strike into the top corner from outside the area a minute from time to get the French off to a winning start.
Two of the stars of the Premier League season – Leicester’s N’Golo Kante and West Ham United’s Payet – were named in the hosts’ line-up, while former Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches was among the starters for Romania.
Didier Deschamps’ men got off to a nervous start in front of their home crowd though, and Romania had two good chances in the opening five minutes, as Stancu first saw his point-blank effort brilliantly saved by Hugo Lloris, before Florin Andone flicked a header just over the bar from the resulting corner.
France looked nervous, especially at the back, but had their first chance of the match when Arsenal striker Giroud headed wide.
They went even closer to taking the lead after 14 minutes in a move which started with a brilliant through-ball by the influential Paul Pogba.
The midfielder launched an inch-perfect pass into the path of Bacary Sagna, whose cross was met by Antoine Griezmann, and despite his initial effort being blocked, the Atletico Madrid forward then headed the ball against the post.
Pogba shot just over the bar from 30 yards as the match got to the interval goalless.
Just as they did in the first half, Romania started the second half the stronger and Stancu had another great chance to give his nation the lead, but he could only send his acrobatic effort wide of Lloris’ post.
Giroud then hit the ball straight at the goalkeeper after Payet fed the striker in the penalty area, before the Hammers midfielder then produced some brilliant trickery on the left-hand side of the box in the 57th minute, before cutting the ball back to Pogba, who once again could only volley straight at the keeper.
However, a minute later Deschamps’ side did take the lead and it was Payet that was the creative influence again. His cross from the right found Giroud, who beat Ciprian Tatarusanu to the ball to head into the net.
But Romania were level seven minutes later thanks to some clumsy defending from former Manchester United left-back, Evra.
The full-back brought down Stancu in the box, and the forward picked himself up and sent Lloris the wrong way from the spot to bring Anghel Iordanescu’s men level.
France looked set to be disappointed in their attempts to win the opener as the game headed towards injury-time – until the intervention of the magical Payet.
The 29-year-old received the ball 25 yards out, before swivelling and hitting an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top left-hand corner of the net. It was a goal fit to win any match and sent the French fans into raptures.
Man of the Match: Dimitri Payet – The midfielder hasn’t even part of the France squad for large chunks of the last couple of years, but he was the main creative influence in the win against Romania. As well as setting up Giroud for the opening goal with a brilliant cross, he then won the match that looked to be heading for a draw with an outstanding strike from outside the box, and he could be a key player as Les Bleus look to go on and win the tournament.
What Next? France play the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, Albania, at the Stade Velodrome on Wednesday, while Romania will look to pick up their first points when they face Switzerland at the Parc des Princes on the same day.