Les Bleus happy to be spared the blues - but need improvement

Hosts France woke up Saturday happy to have the first three points in the bag, but also with the knowledge that improvement is needed in all areas if they really want to lift the Euro 2016 trophy.

A final moment of genius from attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet, a long-range blast into the top left corner, gave Les Bleus an 89th-minute victory over stubborn Romania at the Stade de France on Friday night.

West Ham's Payet was the undisputed star, setting up most of France's other chances, including the corner that Olivier Giroud headed home for a 1-0 lead.

"Payet saves the party" said the front-page headline of the L'Equipe sports daily, while Sports Minister Patrick Kanner told Europe 1 radio that Payet's tears after the goal were "a message to the whole nation. He shows with his tears what France is capable of."

France's high-profile attack had its moments, but things may have looked different had not goalkeeper Hugo Lloris denied Bogdan Stancu early on from point-blank range. Stancu then missed again, completely unmarked, three minutes after the break.

No wonder Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu seemed slightly subdued, lamenting the missed chances, Payet's late winner and Giroud's goal, though it was not clear whether he was blaming goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu for a mistake, or the referee for an alleged unfair effort by Giroud.

"Had we scored, that would have changed the whole match," he said. "I can't and don't want to comment on the first goal. It hurts to lose in the 89th minute - but it was a fabulous strike from a wonderful player."

Iordanescu said it will be difficult to lift the players for the next game on Wednesday against Switzerland, while Didier Deschamps will need some fine-tuning for their game the same day against Albania.

The defence appeared shaky at times, with nervous Adil Rami and Laurent Koscielny not looking good on Stancu's first chance, and the most experienced of the back four, Patrice Evra, tripping Nicolae Stanciu for a penalty that gave Romania a 64th-minute equalizer from Stancu.

However, Deschamps also had to improvise at the back after Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu had to quit injured, and Mamadou Sakho was suspended after a positive doping test at his club Liverpool.

Maybe Deschamps was easy on his back line then when he said that his team did "pretty well" defensively. But they also got plenty of help from Payet, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, who could be found near their own penalty area more often than not in what was unanimously called "a timid" opening period.

Deschamps replaced Griezmann and Pogba after the equalizer with the fast and young Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial while retaining Payet because he could - and did - make the difference.

However, the coach will expect from the star Juventus midfielder Pogba as the transition game depended almost exclusively on Payet.

"Paul can play better. I won't be too hard on him. His potential is such that he can contribute more than he did tonight," Deschamps said of the 23-year-old who is allegedly the target of an offer in excess of 100 million euros (112 million dollars) from Real Madrid.

For now, Payet took all the glory.

"There was a lot of stress and pressure. If someone would have told me I wouldn't have believed it. It all come out with the goal," he said.

France now have the nation behind them, and the next games against Albania and Switzerland will be easier on the mental side after the tournament opener, which is always considered tricky.

"The result matters most. Not everything was perfect, far from it. But the victory is positive and its very important to begin with a victory," Deschamps said.

"It is was a bit like playing in a cup final. Romania had nothing to lose and we had everything to lose. The win at the death gives us greater confidence."

Last update: Sat, 11/06/2016 - 11:56
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