Euro 2016: Payet Strikes Late Wonder Goal to Lift France Over Romania

Dimitri Payet
Dimitri Payet at Stade de France, Paris, June 10. Payet scored a wonder goal to give France three points in the tournament's opening game. FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty

Dimitri Payet continued his ascent to the top of European football by scoring a late winner for France as the European Championships took off in true Parisian style.

Against a resilient Romania side that was unbeaten in qualifying, the home nation looked like it had to settle for a point after being pegged back by the visitors in the second half.

But, with two minutes remaining, Payet picked up the ball at the edge of the area and lashed a left-footed shot into the top corner to send the Stade de France —and the rest of the country—into rapturous celebration.

It had been Paul Pogba, the Juventus midfielder, tipped to be France's poster boy of this generation; Pogba who was expected to slip into the boots of Zinedine Zidane, who lifted the World Cup the last time a major tournament was played in the country. But Payet stole the show.

Having set up Olivier Giroud for the opener and settling the game in such dramatic fashion late on Payet left the pitch in tears as he was substituted.

World-famous French DJ David Guetta had promised that "tonight's gonna be a good night" during the opening ceremony, and it sure was for the home nation. France lived up to expectation and look likely to challenge for a third European Championship title.

The concern before kick-off, however, had been whether France's defence would be as good on the pitch as it likely was off. While two police helicopters circled above the Stade de France, the home nation was threatened within four minutes.

In the absence of the injured Raphael Varane, Sevilla's Adil Rami partnered with Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny at center-back. Rami, 30, was to blame for both goals conceded in a 3-2 victory over Cameroon in the lead up to the tournament, causing worry for Les Bleus.

It took less than four minutes for this anxiety to be founded as a lack of communication between Rami and Koscielny lead to a corner. Whipped in, the ball was flicked on by Florin Andone to an unmarked Bogdan Stancu at the far post, a yard out. With Hugo Lloris desperately scampering across his goal line, it looked harder to miss. But miss he did. Stancu sent his effort straight at Lloris, and the ball was lashed to safety.

France was quick to grow into the game, much through the creativity oozing from Pogba and Payet in the midfield.

France players celebrate with fans at the end of its win over Romania. Lee Smith/Reuters

Pogba purred throughout the first half, launching attacks from deep with one in the 14th minute ending in Antoine Griezmann hitting the post. But it was Payet who eventually outshone his compatriot.

A Payet cross from the left in the 10th minute was sent wide by Giroud before his header from the West Ham man's corner was arrowed over the bar moments before half-time.

It took 12 minutes into the second half for the duo to link up once again, but this time coming to fruition. Payet, on his so-called weaker left foot, sent a cross in toward Giroud, whose determination saw him beat Ciprian Tatarusanu, Romania's goalkeeper, and send the ball looping into the back of the net.

The lead didn't last too long, though. Just seven minutes later, former Manchester United defender Patrice Evra threw out a leg in the penalty area but connected with man rather than ball. Viktor Kassai, the Hungarian referee, paused before pointing to the spot, appearing to have received guidance from his assistants. Stancu stepped up and sent Lloris the wrong way. The bubble looked burst.

Deschamps brought Kingsley Coman and Manchester United's Anthony Martial on in search of a winner.

France probed but never truly looked like troubling Romania, before Payet stepped up. It was a moment worthy of a final, and the Frenchman will hope he can replicate it 30 days from now in the same stadium.