Touch, glance, bang! Dimitri Payet’s stunning left-footed strike saved France late on in the opening match of Euro 2016, in a game that looked to be heading for a draw, before the West Ham playmaker sent the nation into sheer euphoria with his delightful winning goal.
After a goalless first half in which Payet had looked lively and N’golo Kante of Leicester had been impressive, it was Payet who whipped in an inviting cross for Olivier Giroud to head in early on in the second half.
However, just as the the French looked to be taking control of the game, a foul in the penalty area from Patrice Evra gave Bogdan Stancu a chance from 12 yards, and he made no mistake, levelling the tie.
Then, late on, Romania were left in shock as Payet pulled off a sensational left-footed strike from outside of the area to clinch the win in the tournament’s opening game for the hosts.
Of course, it didn’t all go to plan for Didier Deschamps’s side, but the three points were vital against a Romania side who are often tough to beat, and France can know go into their remaining group games against Albania and Switzerland knowing that they already have a win in the bag.
As for England, they started well against Russia, creating good chances, most notably an opening for Adam Lallana, but the first half finished 0-0, as England were left regretting their missed opportunities.
Still, when the goal finally did come as the game was reaching its latter stage, it was through a free-kick from Eric Dier, where Dier’s shot, a good effort, still prompted questions over Igor Akinveev’s goalkeeping, as he appeared to step to the side over the wall, before Dier proceeded to whip the ball towards the side that Akinveev was originally standing in.
Unfortunately, when it looked like England were just seeing out the last few minutes of stoppage time, Vasili Berezutsky’s looping header broke English hearts in the 92nd minute, and despite England’s impressive performance where Wayne Rooney shone in midfield, they were unable to start the tournament with a win.
After the game, there was much controversy as many people questioned Roy Hodgson over his decision to replace Wayne Ronney with Jack Wilshere, and also his decision to refuse to bring on Jamie Vardy at all, aswell as the fact that Harry Kane, England’s main hope in attack, was on corner duty.
Of course, if he can deliver good balls then it’s always useful to have him on corners, but seeing as he is an impressive poacher who can score a wide range of goals, it seems obvious that he should be in the box in those set-piece situations.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of positives to take from England’s opening game, but the fact that the Three Lions failed to collect three points, makes their tie with Wales this Thursday even more important.
Germany’s match up with Ukraine was a similar game, however after Shkodran Mustafi’s headed opener, rather than a late equaliser from Ukraine, their decision to put so many men forward in the hopes of an equaliser resulted in a sweeping counter-attack from Germany, rounded off by Bastian Schwienstieger as the Germans walked away with a 0-2 win, and, unlike England, three points.
One of the most intriguing fixtures that the group’s produced was the match up between Belgium and Italy, and with Belgium edging the pre match talk as favourites, Italy caused an upset with a 0-2 win with goals from Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle, as Belgium once again failed to live up to expectations.
This golden age in Belgian football is not an era that their current crop of talent, along with coach Marc Wilmots, are taking advantage of, and their football seems to lack a flow, as if they are almost a team of individual superstars who can’t play as a team.
Looking at the rest of the home nations, there were contrasting results, as Northern Ireland, suffered a 0-1 defeat to Poland, Republic of Ireland drew 1-1 with Sweden, in a game that they could have won, and a Gareth Bale free-kick inspired Wales to a 2-1 win over Slovakia.
Other games saw holders Spain have to wait until late on for Gerard Pique to head in the winner against Czech Republic, a stunning Luka Modric volley won the game against Turkey for Croatia, brothers Taulant and Granit Xhaxa faced off as Switzerland beat Albania 1-0, and in Group F, a group which, at first glance, seems to be less than interesting, contained many intriguing sub-plots.
First of all, Hungary, who haven’t reached a major finals for 30 years, faced rivals Austria, and with Austria going in as favourites, the tournament’s first upset came as Hungary triumphed 0-2 with two impressive goals, and after that, the tournament’s smallest nation, Iceland, faced off against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and in another surprise result, Iceland cancelled out Portugal’s opener and held on for a draw in what will be a truly memorable day in their history.
Overall, it’s been an entertaining start to the Euro’s which still hasn’t featured a 0-0 yet, and you can be sure to expect much more entertainment to follow.