Euro 2016

Tears flow as Payet turns instant hero

With the clock ticking down, Dimitri Payet (centre) scores the dramatic winner in France's 2-1 victory in the Group A encounter against Romania at Stade de France on Friday. The host nation's Man of the Match said later: "There had been a lot of stre
With the clock ticking down, Dimitri Payet (centre) scores the dramatic winner in France's 2-1 victory in the Group A encounter against Romania at Stade de France on Friday. The host nation's Man of the Match said later: "There had been a lot of stress, a lot of pressurePHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
An emotional Dimitri Payet (above) is congratulated by France coach Didier Deschamps after scoring the late winner in the 2-1 victory against Romania.
An emotional Dimitri Payet (above) is congratulated by France coach Didier Deschamps after scoring the late winner in the 2-1 victory against Romania.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

France celebrates forward's role in stunning win in tournament opener against Romania

PARIS • As he left the pitch to euphoric acclaim, deep into stoppage time, Dimitri Payet could not hold back the tears.

On Friday evening France were crying out for a hero and in Payet, born almost 9,700km away on the island of Reunion, they found a most spectacular form of inspiration.

The 29-year-old's late goal ensured a 2-1 win over Romania that the host nation's Euro 2016 party - following the tournament opener - carried on long into the night.

It was a stunning, dramatic intervention.

At that point, in the 89th minute of the 90, France seemed to be toiling, running out of ideas, frustrated by the spirit and intelligence of their opponents.

A careless trip by Patrice Evra had allowed Bogdan Stancu, with a penalty, to cancel out Olivier Giroud's goal.

Paul Pogba had been substituted, his usual excellence eluding him, and so too had Antoine Griezmann.

But where there was Payet, there was hope, his wonderful left-foot shot struck with power and menace to settle the outcome.

He quickly became a cult hero at English club West Ham United on arrival from Marseille last summer, earning an adulation that he had rarely felt in France.

Yesterday morning, though, he would have awoken as a national hero - feted not just for that beautiful winning goal but for his performance all evening, including his cross to set up Giroud in the second half.

And perhaps above all, there were the cathartic tears he shed as he was given a standing ovation following his piece de resistance.

"There had been a lot of stress, a lot of pressure," he said as he collected the Man of the Match award. "If someone had told me it would go like that tonight, I wouldn't have believed them. All of that emotion came out with the goal."

Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu, who was left to rue his side's luck after they were seconds away from what would have been a deserved point from a spirited display, said: "It really hurts to lose a game in the 89th minute. It was a fabulous strike from a wonderful player."

France's last-gasp win will now allow them to play more freely in their upcoming matches.

For at least one half, Didier Deschamps' team looked crushed under pressure, needing Hugo Lloris's point-blank save in the fourth minute to avoid a Romania opener that would have made their life much more complicated at the Stade de France.

"France had not played a competitive game in two years, there was a lot of apprehension," full-back Evra said. "There was pressure because it was the opening game, because everyone wanted to do well.

"I liked our mindset. We can't win like this every time but that was beautiful.

"Now we will be able to come loose against Albania (on Wednesday in Marseille)."

While they seemed to be playing in first gear during the first half, the hosts showed occasional glimpses of what they are capable of.

They created numerous chances after Anthony Martial replaced the disappointing Paul Pogba.

With Giroud, Payet and Griezmann at the start and Kingsley Coman, Martial or Andre-Pierre Gignac on the bench, France have enough firepower and can be devastating up front, especially when playing without pressure.

Friday's opening game served that purpose.

"The players can feel that the crowd are behind them, which is extraordinary, but it gives them obligations. It was not easy to deal with it from a psychological point of view," said Deschamps. "The joy of the crowd was nice to see. It will give us more confidence and more serenity."

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'Tears flow as Payet turns instant hero'. Print Edition | Subscribe