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Will prince Payet become king of the Euros?

Dynamic France midfielder Dimitri Payet is poised to dominate the 2016 European Championship with his lethal cocktail of defensive diligence, midfield mastery and flamboyant finishing.

Dimitri Payet

Source: AAP



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The West Ham United star displayed all these qualities during the opening match of EURO 2016 against Romania at the Stade de France. It was a performance so majestic that it had 'watch me' written all over it.

Several famous footballers have left an indelible mark on some of the world's major tournaments with their individual exploits that enriched the game's history.

Fans will always remember the 1984 European Championship as Michel Platini's masterpiece and that of 1988 as Marco Van Basten's finest hour, same as the 1970 FIFA World Cup will always be seen as Pele's triumph, the 1986 edition as Diego Maradona's and the 1998 event as Zinedine Zidane's.

Payet, 29, has a long way to go to reach the level of such superstars or emulate their stunning achievements.

But if France's first match of EURO 2016 is any indication, peerless Payet has all the credentials to carry Les Bleus to ultimate glory.

It's early days and top players like Spain's Andres Iniesta, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Belgium's Eden Hazard, Croatia's Luka Modric, England's Wayne Rooney and Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic might have something to say about that. But the signs are there.



Forget for a moment the fact that Payet made the first goal and sealed the match with a late strike ... the Reunion-born star gave a classic demonstration of non-stop midfield play to which the Romanians had no answer.

Payet has lived in the shadow of Paul Pogba for the best part of two seasons.

The playmaker who is reportedly worth €120 million by his club Juventus went into the tournament as the star of the side but he had a quiet opening game by his standards.

Payet, however, was on fire from the word go. He was here, there and everywhere.

He was named man of the match and proved that he is capable of assuming the responsibility of carrying the French team in their bid for a third continental crown after 1984 and 2000.

Payet wasn't even in the squad when the Stade de France was hit by terrorists during an international match against Germany that was part of a series of extremist attacks across Paris last November.

But his stunning debut season in the Premier League, after his transfer from Olympique Marseille, persuaded coach Didier Deschamps that he deserved his chance.

Deschamps had his doubts about the player the French media have described as "complicated" but the coach may have been convinced of Payet's special quality when the midfielder underlined his skill at taking free kicks with a sublime finish in a lead-up match against Cameroon in May.

Deschamps said after the victory over Romania that he was in awe of his box-to-box midfielder with the nose for goal.



"He's come a long way in a short time and he can make the difference," he said.

Deschamps might even be tempted to give Payet a rest in the third group match against Switzerland should his team, as expected, beat Albania in the second match to seal qualification for the knockout phase.

Payet is that good and suddenly that important.

The effortless way he served Olivier Giroud for France's opening goal and the sumptuous manner in which he hammered the ball in with his left foot after he took a lovely first touch with his right thrilled the Parisian crowd that was beginning to give up hope of victory over resolute Romania.

The French media were ecstatic in their appraisal of the "liberating" French victory, particularly Payet's performance.

'Payet rescues the party' screamed sports daily L'Equipe.

Yet Payet himself showed he has a wise head on his shoulders and is not going to get carried away by his opening-night heroics.

"Had we won by two or three goals that might have misled us slightly," he said.

"The fact we won like that shows there won't be any easy matches and we have to go out and win matches."

Meanwhile, England's 1-1 draw with Russia in Marseilles would have surprised many neutral fans but the result was nothing out of the ordinary.



England have taken part in nine continental finals tournaments since 1964 (they did not enter in 1960 and failed to qualify five times) and have never won their opening match.

Their record is five draws and four losses.

On the other hand, three-time winners Germany beat Ukraine 2-0 in Lille to retain their record of never having lost the opening game.



Their record from 12 attempts since 1972 (they did not enter in 1960 and 1964 and failed to qualify in 1968) is seven wins and five draws.


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5 min read
Published 13 June 2016 at 11:00am
By Philip Micallef