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Football: Five things we learned from France’s win over Romania

Paris, France | AFP |

France got their month-long festival of football off to a winning start, but only just, as Dimitri Payet’s sensational late strike handed the hosts a nervy 2-1 win over Romania in Paris on Friday.

AFP Sports looks at five things we learned from the opening game of Euro 2016.


Tearful Payet pulls the strings

There were doubts as to whether the West Ham playmaker would even start as he battled with Manchester United’s Anthony Martial for a place in Didier Deschamps’s line-up.

However, Payet rewarded Deschamps’s faith in style with a brilliant overall display capped off by his assist to Olivier Giroud for the opening goal and a thunderous strike into the top corner when France seemed set to get off to an underwhelming start.

A 24-team Euros remains competitive

Fears that extending the European Championship to 24 from 16 teams could lead to many more uncompetitive clashes between giants and minnows were dispelled for the opening night at least as Romania more than held their own.

Under the old system, Anghel Iordanescu’s side would have struggled to qualify after finishing runners-up to Northern Ireland in Group F, yet could have got a least a point but for some poor finishing by Bogdan Stancu when presented with two great chances to open the scoring.

France’s dodgy defence raises doubts

Shorn of Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu through injury and Mamadou Sakho due to a provisional doping ban, fears over France’s ability to win the competition with an under-strength backline look justified as it creaked against a Romania side that scored just 11 goals in 10 qualifying matches.

Giroud makes his mark

The much-maligned Arsenal striker had attracted boos from French fans in some of Les Bleus’ warm-up friendlies as serious doubts were raised over his ability to fire the hosts to glory in the absence of Real Madrid star Karim Benzema — who has been excluded from the squad over his role in a sex-tape blackmail scandal of then international teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

The doubters may have not been fully won over as Giroud failed to hit the target with two good headed chances in the first-half.

However, he got his moment of glory as he rose above Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu to head home the opening goal of the tournament from Payet’s cross.

 Deschamps vindicated

Despite recognising his side’s performance had been “far from perfect”, Deschamps got all the big calls right.

Even when Martial was introduced as France searched for the winner, Deschamps sacrificed star Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba to keep Payet in midfield from where his moment of magic decided the match.

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