Dimitri Payet magic gives France a win vs. Romania to open Euro 2016
PARIS -- France earned three points from the opening game of Euro 2016, beating Romania 2-1 on a wonderful late goal from Dimitri Payet.
1. Payet shows why he was selected
Didier Deschamps' decision to pick Payet ahead of Antony Martial was vindicated well before the West Ham star smashed a thunderbolt past Ciprian Tatarusanu for the winner in the 89th minute. If the original thinking was that Payet might help unlock a packed, park-the-bus style of Romanian defence, he quickly adjusted when it became clear that Anghel Iordanescu's men weren't going to play that way.
Payet often became a fourth midfielder and was a constant threat on set pieces as per usual. His link-ups with Olivier Giroud were almost telepathic and on a night when Antoine Griezmann waxed and waned, he offered a much needed jolt of creativity. The decision to keep him on after the equalizer, sacrificing Paul Pogba instead, was also a big one. And that, too, proved right. It confirms what we knew: Deschamps has guts. And intuition too.
2. Romania's game plan falls just short
Romania didn't come into this game with a reputation as a high-energy team but rather one that conceded little, took the lead and controlled games. That's how they went through qualification conceding just twice. Of course, they didn't play anybody nearly as talented as France, either, and coach Iordanescu evidently realized this.
Rather than sitting tight and congesting the space in their own final third, they flooded the midfield, robbing Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi of the time to think and create. It forced Payet to come deep to help out and it meant that when Romania did win the ball back, they often had runners from deep.
It's not foolproof, of course, and that kind of press is something you can only do intermittently (which they did, intelligently). Of course, you will concede chances, and they did. But it did limit France's flow to Payet's invention, usually on set pieces. And it kept Romania in the game, at least until Payet had the brilliant final word.
3. Defence could hamper France all tournament long
The thing about coaching a national side is that there is no transfer market to the rescue. Didier Deschamps lost four center-backs (Kurt Zouma, Jeremy Mathieu, Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane) to factors beyond his control ranging from injuries to doping bans. His full-backs are 33-year-old Bacary Sagna and 35-year-old Patrice Evra, who has spent most of the season playing as a wing-back.
You work with what you have and defensively, Les Bleus showed they don't have much. From the moment they lost both Florin Andone and Bogdan Stancu on that set piece early in the game, to when they turned to salt statues early in the second half when Nicolae Stanciu set up Stancu, to the moment when Evra kicked out at Stanciu for no apparent reason and conceded the game-tying penalty, this did not look like a settled back-line.
The effects were felt further up the pitch, too. The full-backs, perhaps fearing for Hugo Lloris' safety with Adil Rami patrolling the middle, offered little width. The midfield sat deeper than they might have otherwise. This is something Deschamps needs to fix but he likely won't be able to with the rather uninspiring solutions off the bench.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.