France ready to roar after easing off pressure
By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - A draw against Romania in their Euro 2016 opening game on Friday would not have been a disaster for France but the hosts' last-gasp 2-1 win against their Group A rivals will allow them to play more freely in their upcoming matches.
For at least one half, Didier Deschamps's team looked crushed under pressure, needing Hugo Lloris's point-blank save in the fourth minute to avoid a Romania opener that would have made their life much more complicated at the Stade de France.
Olivier Giroud headed home from Dimitri Payet's cross before the hour for France, only for Bogdan Stancu to equalise from the penalty spot.
Man of the match Payet, however, drove a venomous strike into the top corner one minute from time to give France all three points.
"France had not played a competitive game in two years, there was a lot of apprehension," fullback Patrice Evra, whose silly foul led to Romania's penalty, told reporters.
"There was pressure because it was the opening game, because everyone wanted to do well. I liked our mindset. We can't win like this every time but that was beautiful."
According to Evra, still a very influential player in the dressing room although he is not captain anymore, Les Bleus are now ready to rumble when they take on Albania on Wednesday in Marseille.
"Now we will be able to come loose against Albania," he said.
While they seemed to be playing in first gear during the first half, the hosts also showed glimpses of what they are capable of.
They created numerous chances after Anthony Martial replaced the disappointing Paul Pogba.
With Giroud, Payet and Antoine Griezmann at the start and Kingsley Coman, Martial or Andre-Pierre Gignac on the bench, France have enough firepower and can be devastating up front, especially when playing without pressure.
Friday's opening game served that purpose.
"The players can feel that the crowd are behind them, which is extraordinary, but it gives them obligations, it was not easy to deal with it from a psychological point of view," said Deschamps.
"The joy of the crowd was nice to see. It will give us more confidence and more serenity."
Payet had already struck a last-gasp winner with a stunning free kick in France's 3-2 victory against Cameroon on May 30 and it helps having somebody in the team who can use both feet to whip a game changer.
"I think I'm going to put him in ice until the next game to protect him," said Deschamps.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Vignal; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)