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Euro 2016 Kicks Off Amid Unprecedented Security, Public-Sector Strikes

  • Eugen Tomiuc

Security was tight ahead of the opening match of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament between hosts France and Romania.

Security was tight ahead of the opening match of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament between hosts France and Romania.

Host France has beaten Romania in Paris in the opening match of UEFA's Euro 2016 soccer championship, which is being staged by a country still gripped by a state of emergency declared after deadly terror attacks in November.

Some 90,000 police officers, soldiers, and private guards will provide security in the 10 cities hosting the monthlong event, which for the first time features 24 teams.

The French are looking to their footballers to provide a reason to cheer with a repeat of their triumphs on home turf in Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup.

France coach Didier Deschamps, whose side was playing Germany in an international friendly when the Stade de France was targeted on November 13 by suicide bombers linked to militant group Islamic State (IS), has said the attacks, which killed 130 people, evoked "very strong emotions."

Les Bleus will face formidable opposition for the title from world champion Germany, defending European champion Spain, and football powerhouses Italy, England, or even highly touted outsiders Belgium.

France started as favorites in the Group A game against Romania and they duly delivered, winning 2-1 thanks to goals by Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet either side of Bogdan Stancu's converted penalty.

Lacking any heavy-caliber stars like past legend Gheorghe Hagi, Romania's veteran coach Anghel Iordanescu relied heavily on his team's defense, which was Europe's strongest during the qualifying stage, with only two goals conceded.

However, they were unable to keep out Payet's stunning last-minute strike, which settled the game.

The June 10 game was preceded by an opening ceremony featuring superstar DJ David Guetta.

Ahead of the tournament, French authorities were also scrambling to end the disruption of rail travel and garbage collection prompted by a civil sector strike.

In both Paris and Marseille, France's second-largest city, trade unionists blockaded incineration plants and some garbage men walked off the job.

President Francois Hollande has pledged to take "all necessary measures" to ensure the championships go off without a hitch.

On June 11, England will play its first Group B game, against Russia in Marseille.

Security is high in the city after British media reports said data found in connection with the sole surviving suspect in the Paris attacks suggested an IS cell was seeking to stage attacks against Russian and English soccer fans.

On June 9, two English fans were arrested in Marseille after a brawl with local people outside a pub.

Some half-a-million British fans -- half of the total estimated 1 million foreign visitors -- are reported to be among the 7 million supporters in France.

The U.S. and British governments have both warned fans they could be at risk.

The tournament's 24 teams are divided into six groups, out of which 16 sides -- two from each group plus the four best third-placed teams -- will qualify for the knock-out stage.

The final is scheduled for July 10 at Stade de France.

With additional reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and BBC and