payet

Hosts France kicked off the 2016 European Championships today with a 2-1 win over Romania and they have West Ham’s little gem, Dimitri Payet, who was undoubtedly the best player on the field, to thank.

Romania handled themselves well throughout the match and created some excellent chances in the first half and forced Lloris to pull off a fantastic reaction save from Stancu after only four minutes. The Romanians continued to cause the hosts a bit of headache in the first ten minutes but eventually the home team would settle and started to carve out more chances. They’d, however, finish the half at 0-0.

France eventually opened the scoring in the 57th minute through Giroud after he out jumped Romania’s goalkeeper to head home Payet’s wonderfully delivered cross. Oliver Kahn among others argued Giroud’s goal shouldn’t have stood but the official made a good call. Giroud’s contact was minimal at best but goalkeepers are so used to being protected that they tend to feel aggrieved at the slightest contact in the box. Eight minutes later, France’s ecstasy and relief at scoring the first goal of the tournament was short lived as Romania equalised through Stancu, who converted a penalty after being felled by Evra in the 65th minute.

The Romanians absorbed as much pressure as they could but Payet was not to be denied Man of the Match and endeared himself to French fans in the 88th minute with an absolutely sublime left-footed strike from outside the box, which Tatarusanu dared not attempt to save.

Despite the win, the French looked less of a team and more like a group of individuals and although that did eventually save them in the end, one wonders if it will be enough to win them the title on home soil against stronger opponents. Maybe it was a touch of nerves, maybe Romania’s organisation threw their game off or maybe, just perhaps Giroud is not the man, who should be leading France’s line and fans should really question Deschamps’ decision to not have brought along France’s best striker, Benzema.

According to Squawka, Giroud had no shots on target, created zero chances and completed a paltry two passes, one of which was at kick-off, in the first half. He squandered a great deal of chances before finally hitting the opening goal in the second half but then promptly went back to wasting the chances created for him. He is anything but a proper number 9 and Deschamps should consider starting either Gignac or Martial ahead of him. It doesn’t matter how many goals he’s had in his last five appearances for club and country (8) but how many chances he fritters away before converting those goals.

As Squawka reports, France has only kept two clean sheets in their last 17 games in the European Championships. That in itself is already an appalling statistic. Add the questionable defensive pairing of Rami and Konscienly- which was often shown up by the Romanians- to that and it raises the question, will they be solid enough to steer France to glory or will the young and vibrant partnership of Varane and Laporte be sorely missed?

On the other hand, France may not need to worry about a disjointed team or a lacklustre defence because they have their knight in shining armour and his name is Dimitri Payet.