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Letter from Versailles: Payet's tears, secret training sessions and the Boys in Green get the party going

Euro 2016 is finally up-and-running with the host nation France off to a winning start last night.

Dimitri Payet proved the match-winner last night.
Dimitri Payet proved the match-winner last night.
Image: Mike Egerton

Ben Blake reports from Versailles 

DAY THREE OF Ireland’s Euro 2016 training camp was the strangest so far of our short time in France.

Late on Thursday night, it emerged that the following day’s session and media briefing had been cancelled with the squad seemingly handed a day to rest as their opening match with Sweden edged closer.

A slightly odd decision and one which came into further question when a number of colleagues in the Irish press corps spotted the team bus arriving at the Stade de Montbauron at the usual time.

And although Martin O’Neill appeared on the FAI’s YouTube channel yesterday afternoon to insist that they had simply travelled by bus from their hotel to the ground so they could go for a “walk”, the suggestions are that a session did in fact take place.

Friday also marked the start of the tournament and the host nation’s opening game at the Stade de France. And, as this journalist wasn’t lucky enough to get accredited for France’s Group A tie with Romania, the plan was to soak up the atmosphere in a local Versailles pub.

The square just off Rue de la Paroisse didn’t exactly grind to a halt for kick-off with many of those present more concerned with enjoying their meals during the national anthems.

That said, Euro 2016 may well turn out to be a slow burner for the French and events on the pitch ensured there was a carnival atmosphere outside by full-time.

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Something has clicked with Dimitri Payet over the past year and he came into the tournament having lit up the Premier League in his first season at West Ham.

Last night, the man from the tiny Indian Ocean island of Reunion outshone the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial with a sublime performance capped off with the winning goal — a thunderous strike in the 89th minute.

The 29-year-old broke down in tears at the final whistle as he finally got the chance to make his mark at a major tournament after being left out of the 2014 World Cup squad.

And while a number of English fans clashed with riot police over in Marseille, a merry band of Irish supporters arrived late into Versailles and took the square by storm post-game.

The obligatory Stand Up For the Boys in Green was followed by a rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann before the locals got involved and La Marseillaise was belted out by both sets of supporters.

The party is only getting started, it would appear.

Listen to The42′s Ben Blake on the 98FM Euro 2016 Daily podcast throughout the tournament 

Letter from Versailles: Paris hit with problems as Euros kick off but all calm in Ireland camp

Ireland cancel training just 3 days out from Euro 2016 opener

About the author:

Ben Blake

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