It took some late heroics from Dimitri Payet and sound defense from N'Golo Kanté in the midfield but Euro 2016 hosts France fought their way past a surprisingly resilient Romanian side to earn a 2-1 in the tournament opener at the Stade de France on June 10.
After Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud headed the hosts in front in the 58th minute after beating Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to the ball in the air, Kanté took charge defensively up until the 64th minute when it was all undone by a poor penalty conceded by left-back Patrice Evra. Bogdan Stancu stepped up for Romania and slotted the ball past Hugo Lloris to level things at 1-1.
Romania seemed poised to take a massive point off the hosts until the 89th minute when Payet sealed the win with a shot deserving to be the winner. A sublime left-footed rocket to the top-right corner of the net relieved French fans to break the curse of the host nation, which had not won their opening match since Belgium beat Sweden 2-1 back at Euro 2000.
Kanté played his Leicester-like, straight-forward defensive role all game and was the best player on the pitch outside Payet, who was subbed out in the 92nd minute of play and came off in tears due to the sheer emotion of the moment. Where Payet succeeded offensively, Kanté was equal to the task on defense by being instinctive with his tackling and slowing down the pace with good passes back to the defense following turnovers, effectively shutting down any Romanian forward pressure.
It was the perfect match to show both France's strengths and weaknesses against a side many overlooked despite Romania finishing their qualifying undefeated, albeit with 5 draws to their five victories. France are blessed with players with loads of individual skill in the likes of Griezmann, Pogba, Payet and defensive masterminds like Kanté and Lloris between the posts. Pogba and Matuidi provided minimal cover at times for France, leaving Kanté to fight along in the midfield defensively and for most of the time out wide after the fullbacks pushed ahead.
The combinations among the French players are still a work in progress, but a much-needed opening win over Romania could do wonders for a team that has yet to put the full picture together. They have stars in every area of the pitch and their front three of Griezmann, Payet and Giroud had only ever started together once prior to Friday's win. Romania can feel hard done by not to get a point.
Kanté and France continue their host run in the Euros on June 15 against Albania in Marseille.