Amid floods, strikes and terrorism concerns in France, the country’s soccer team attempted to shift the focus to matters sporting Friday as Les Bleus began their bid to win European soccer’s continental showpiece. Over 80,000 fans had arrived at the Stade de France in plenty of time to get through a number of security checks and provide an electric atmosphere for Euro 2016’s opening match after DJ David Guetta had been the headline act for the tournament’s opening ceremony.
The atmosphere got even more raucous when Dimitri Payet’s stunning 89th-minute curling shot secured a 2-1 win for France against Romania. Bidding to win the European Championship for the third time after its 1984 and 2000 triumphs, Olivier Giroud’s header had given France a second-half lead before Bogdan Stancu equalized with a penalty. The Stade de France was the stage for one of France’s greatest sporting triumphs — its 1998 World Cup final win over Brazil — but the 81,338 capacity venue was also caught up in one of the country’s most recent tragedies after it was targeted during the November terror attacks. Romania hadn’t beaten France since 1982 and gradually the Euro 2016 hosts established control of the match in the first half.
Arsenal forward Giroud might have done better with a couple of headers, while Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann twice went close for France. First he hit the post with a header after Romania’s defense failed to clear the ball and then Griezmann fizzed a shot narrowly wide. Romania began the second half just as brightly as they had the start of the match and Stancu volleyed wide when he only had Lloris to beat. Much of France’s best work was inspired by Payet and Paul Pogba and those two superbly combined just before France took the lead. Payet’s skill and vision teed up a volley for Pogba, whose shot was blocked by Romania goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu. It was a Payet cross that set up Giroud’s header to put France ahead as the Arsenal striker nabbed his eighth goal in his last six international matches. But the optimism of French fans didn’t last long. Patrice Evra tripped Nicolae Stanciu in the penalty area and Stancu calmly slotted home the spotkick. With time running out it looked as if Romania might emerge with a drew but Payet’s wonderful shot secured all three points for France and put them top of Group A.