KEIR RADNEDGE in PARIS: France coach Didier Deschamps promised to wrap match-winner Dmitri Payet in cotton wool to keep him safe from harm ahead of the Euro 2016 hosts’ next two Group A matches.
The West Ham winger crowned a man-of-the-match performace with a thunderous strike in the 89th minute to provide Les Bleus with a 2-1 win over a tenacious Romanian side who were less affected, early on, by the pressure of the Opening Match occasion.
Romania’s Bogdan Stancu’s wasted gilt-edged opportunities at the start of both first and second halves. Later he converted a penalty to bring Romania level after France had taken the lead through Olivier Giroud. But it the end the winning thrill belonged to Payet.
So strong was the emotional stress that Payet erupted into tears of both joy and relief and realisation as he was substituted in the first minute of stoppage time.
Payet said: “There was so much stress and pressure that, if someone had told me if would be like that, I wouldn’t have believed it. At the end, when I left the pitch, all that emotion just came out.”
The winger praised the French fans for their persistently generous support, even when the team were struggling.
He said: “We were a bit timid in the opening quarter of an hour against a side who defended very well. The crowd helped us and now we can work calmly towards the second match. In fact, had we won by two or three goals it might have misled us slightly whereas winning late in the day reminds us there are no easy matches.”
Deschamps, who has won all his tournament openers as both player and manager, was able to say that he had always been confident Payet was a player with the ability to “make the difference.”
He added: “It was a tricky match. For the first 20 to 25 minutes we had a tough time of it. An Opening Match is like a cup final so we were a little timid but then we went all out for it, put four attacking players on the pitch and were rewarded with a wonderful goal from Dmitri.
“I’ve never had any doubts about his ability to make the difference. He’s an attacking player but one who also works to help out the team. Also, when you can bang the ball like that, into the top corner, it can solve an awful lot of problems.
“I’ll put him on ice ahead of the next few matches to make sure that nothing untoward befalls him.”
Reviewing the ebb and flow of the match, Deschamps said: “It was a very emotional occasion, the first match of a tournament always is. The Romanians had nothing to lose and we had everything to lose.
“There was a lot of expectation from the fans and the players were aware of that even though they’re very familiar with the Stade de France. It wasn’t easy to manage from a psychological aspect but we were eventually rewarded – though I can imagine it was hard for the Romanians to lose a match like that right at the death.”
One man from whom Deschamps will expect more as the tournament progresses is Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba who was substituted when Deschamps decided to sacrifice a midfielder to bring on his attacking substitutes in the closing stages.
Deschamps said: “I didn’t think for a single second of bringing of Ngolo Kante. Paul can play better. I’m not going to be too hard on him but he can contribute more than he did tonight.”
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