France made a perfect start to the European Championship on Friday, with its national team beating Romania and its security forces ensuring that everyone stayed safe at the Stade de France.
Seven months after the stadium was a target of the attacks that claimed 130 lives across Paris, the host nation opened the 24-team tournament with a late 2-1 victory over Romania.
Security forces in Marseille did not have such an easy time. Tear gas was fired at rowdy fans for a second day running ahead of England’s opening match against Russia on Saturday, bringing back unhappy memories of the violence involving England supporters in the same south coast city during the 1998 World Cup.
For Dimitri Payet, though, the day could not have gone any better. The France midfielder provided the cross for Olivier Giroud to head in France’s 58th minute opener and then scored a spectacular late winner after Bogdan Stancu had leveled from the penalty spot.
Even though he was coming off a superb season in the English Premier League with West Ham, Payet struggled to come to terms with what he had produced in the 89th minute - and burst into tears as he left the pitch after being substituted.
“If someone had told me it would have gone like that, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.
France coach Didier Deschamps paid tribute to a 29-year-old player who galvanized the team as it desperately sought a breakthrough.
“He’s capable of doing extraordinary things,” Deschamps said. “It was a superb goal.”
If Payet’s rising shot from outside the area showed the best side of ‘the beautiful game’, the ugly side was provided by supporters in Marseille’s Old Port, as police repeatedly clashed with fans from France, Russia and England deep into the night.
Tear gas drifted through the air and broken glass crunched underfoot in one of France’s best-known tourist districts, raising concerns at what might follow when Saturday night’s game ends.
The trouble was a far cry from the routine news conferences held by teams as they prepare for the days ahead, though there was little very routine about one held by Spain goalkeeper David De Gea.
In a hastily called press conference at Spain’s Euro 2016 team base in western France, De Gea said he was surprised by allegations that he was embroiled in a police investigation into a pornographic filmmaker — and called them a lie.
“I was the first to be caught by surprise by this news,” De Gea said. “What is being reported by the press is all false.”
On the pitch, the action continues on Saturday with three matches, beginning with the other two teams in France and Romania’s group — Albania and Switzerland.
Gareth Bale’s Wales then plays Slovakia, before England’s tournament opens in Marseille against the Russians.