Euro 2016: Brilliant Dimitri Payet powered opening win, but France has a lot to worry about

Riding largely on Dimitri Payet’s virtuoso display, France earned a tough 2-1 win over Romania in the Euro 2016 opener.

Akarsh Sharma June 11, 2016 19:28:38 IST
Euro 2016: Brilliant Dimitri Payet powered opening win, but France has a lot to worry about

We are only a day into Euro 2016 and Dimitri Payet has already set the benchmark incredibly high with an individual performance that was as complete as it was spectacular. Riding largely on Payet’s virtuoso display, France earned a tough 2-1 win over Romania on opening night – a much-needed result that will allow the home team to ease its nerves and grow into the tournament.

The best thing about Payet’s majestic show was that it did not really require a late moment of magic to be cherished. An unstoppable long-range strike in the dying moments to win the game was simply the icing on the cake. Prior to that, Payet had virtually ran the show for France – which when playing alongside the likes of Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi is no mean feat. Along the way, he also vindicated coach Didier Deschamps’ decision to prefer him over Anthony Martial in the starting XI.

Euro 2016 Brilliant Dimitri Payet powered opening win but France has a lot to worry about

Dimitri Payet is congratulated Olivier Giroud, both who scored a goal apiece for France. AFP

Although Payet was primarily placed on the left side of the front three, he roamed all over the pitch with great success. In cleverly finding pockets of space, the midfielder threw the Romanians off their game. In fact, such was his impact, especially through the centre, it prompted Deschamps to take his star man Pogba off – a move that is almost unheard of – and tweak the formation to ensure that Payet was playing in his most effective position: as a playmaker slotted in behind the striker.

The West Ham United midfielder was at the centre of nearly everything good France did going forward – his involvement (87 touches) was second only to N’Golo Kante (101). During one sumptuous solo move in the second half, Payet dribbled past a couple of Romanian defenders, then dummied his cross to leave another on the deck before teeing the ball up perfectly in the path of an onrushing Pogba – but the Juventus midfielder’s shot failed to beat the goalkeeper.

That was the theme of the night: Payet created goal-scoring chances (eight of them – twice more than the rest of the team combined) while his teammates wasted. When he finally took it upon himself to shoot, he scored (his only other shot was an attempt that was blocked before it could even fly). His pinpoint crosses resulted in a whole host of convertible chances – only one of which resulted in Olivier Giroud’s opener. His touches were a treat to watch – at times a throwback to the Zinedine Zidane era. He even pulled off a stylish no-look pass with great aplomb.

In short, Payet was magic. And the swagger he brought with him on the pitch was reminiscent of Ronaldinho, his idol. In trying to imitate his Brazilian hero, the French midfielder had admitted that he tries “to put on a show while being effective because the spectators come to be entertained”. Which didn’t always work in his favour because for long, he wasn’t considered a Deschamps type of player.

Payet isn’t young by any means. He’s 29 years old and a late bloomer. Till a few months ago, he wasn’t sure whether he’ll play for France again in the near future – especially after publicly questioning Deschamps for excluding him. Till a few weeks ago, he wasn’t sure he’ll make it to the Euro 2016 squad – although a national call-up was received after eight months. Till a few hours ago, he wasn’t sure he’ll be in France’s starting XI for the marquee occasion.

Now, he is a French hero, and one who was so overwhelmed by his own accomplishments that he left the pitch in tears to a standing ovation from the Stade de France crowd.

But let’s look at the bigger picture now. Because Payet, along with midfielders Kante, who made a match-high five interceptions and Blaise Matuidi, who too was a livewire, helped the team overcome its shortcomings. There was plenty in this match for the French to worry about.

For starters, the defence, France’s major weak link heading into the tournament, looked far too vulnerable and lapses often led to inquests within the team. Only the opposition’s wastefulness prevented the French from conceding more than once. Romanian forward Bogdan Stancu missed two golden opportunities he would’ve easily buried on another day before eventually finding the net through a penalty that was rather naively conceded by skipper Patrice Evra.

Central defenders Adil Rami and Laurent Koscielny looked uncomfortable right from kick-off, often occupying the same space and getting in each other’s way. Only a poor refereeing call allowed Koscielny to get away with conceding a penalty. The full-backs, Evra and Bacary Sagna, weren’t effective going forward and did not inspire much confidence at the back either. And set-piece defending too left a lot to be desired with Romania frequently winning the first headers.

Meanwhile, Pogba looked a little off colour and wasn’t too pleased to be substituted. It is his ability that the French have been looking to bank upon in this tournament. Is he already feeling the pressure? Only time will tell. Furthermore, forwards Giroud and the in-form Antoine Griezmann not only missed several chances but also did not link up well with each other or other teammates. The French squad already has limited options in this department.

It is still early days, of course, and this 24-team tournament, which eliminates only eight teams at the group stage, allows plenty of room to tinker. While Deschamps will be pleased with the performance of Payet, he’ll know his team has a lot to improve upon before the next fixtures.

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