When Dimitri Payet came off the pitch, moments after scoring the gorgeous goal that gave France the 2-1 lead over Romania, he was not hiding his emotions. The West Ham attacker cried tears of joy after having provided the home fans a moment of unadulterated, unabashed joy. It was a goal he would have dreamt of scoring, at the grandest of stages, for his nation for whom he was on the fringes for so long. Payet almost didn’t make it for the tournament too, Deschamps having expressed his concerns not too long ago. Then there was the horrific injury he faced late last year after Everton’s James McCarthy’s scissor tackle on him that could have left him out in the cold. But the Frenchman’s seamless return to Slaven Bilic’s team, taking on from where he left off, ensured there was no reduction in quality and the player would be in contention to make it to the final list.
How important the tournament is to France has been highlighted aplenty in the past few months. The November’s terrorist attacks happened right outside this stadium. The French nation feels divided and the national football team can give the people a sense of respite, and pride. Getting the tournament off to a great start is massively important for the host nation.
Payet was France’s best player on the pitch. Even before the goal and his assist to Olivier Giroud, the 29-year-old created plenty of chances in accurate crosses, corners, set-pieces and well weighed through balls. Giroud had three chances to give France the lead before he finally struck the ball in the back of the net in the 57th minute. Payet created eight chances, during the game which is outstanding. The brilliance of this stat can be explained. The rest of the outfield players created nine chances combined. Only Wesley Sneijder (10 vs. Denmark in 2012) and Mesut Ozil (nine vs. Greece in 2012) have created more chances in a single game than Payet in the last four Euros. Anyone who has watched the player recently will not see this as a one-off thing as the 29-year-old creates the same effect in every game. Payet has created the same number of chances in three out of the last four games in all competitions.
The Frenchman was lethal in the final third, as he finished the game with 45 touches in the attacking third. Another outstanding feature of his game is that he doesn’t slow down the game when it is in the transitional phase, this has been a consistent effort since the 2014/15 season at Marseille, and credit for which can go to Marcelo Bielsa.
Payet has made a name for himself for his lethal free kicks. He is a master dead ball specialist and arguably one of the best in world football at the moment. During free-kicks, some time is afforded for the taker to convert his vision into reality. For his goal there was no such time and yet his brilliant shot from his weaker foot was able to launch an unbelievably perfect shot. France had a winner.
Payet had already gained a lot of fame during his excellent debut Premier League campaign. He has already become a legendary player for the West Ham fans and gained a lot of adulation. He has since been linked with a move to bigger clubs too. Last season made him popular and everyone knows who this player is. But this was still something else. When an overwhelmed Payet was substituted in injury-time moments after his sublime winning goal, the stadium rose to acclaim him. He didn’t hold his tears back.
In the first game itself, he has proved he will be France’s chief orchestrater for the rest of the tournament.