UEFA Euro 2106
Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, France
Hosts France became the first side to progress into the knock-out stages of the European Championships after they struck late to beat an inspired and resolute Albania side 2-0 at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.
Two late goals from substitute Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet sealed France’s qualification into the last-16 after both sides struck the woodwork.
Didier Deschamps controversially left out striker Antoine Griezmann and midfielder Paul Pogba in the starting line-up, a decision that was obviously a mistake as the Atlético Madrid striker scored the winner a minute from time.
In a first-half where chances were few, the hosts started well as expected and went close when a Payet freekick was headed over the bar by Giroud.
In the 35th minute a similar situation occurred with Giroud heading a Payet freekick over the bar again.
Three minutes later Albania had a great chance to take a surprise lead when a well-worked corner was pulled back across the face of goal to Ermir Lenjani who scuffed his effort when he really should have scored.
Five minutes later, Albania went close when Ledian Memushaj curled a freekick just over the bar, with the ball catching the roof of the net on its way.
After the break, the hosts were in the ascendancy immediately and went close when an Olivier Giroud cross was flicked-on by Matuidi in towards Kingsley Coman who headed inches wide.
Six minutes later, Albania very nearly took the lead. A brilliant cross by Elseid Hysaj towards Lenjani was deflected onto the post by Bacary Sagna with Lenjani unable to direct the follow-up on target from the floor.
Two minutes later France nearly took the lead. Payet sent in a fine cross that found substitute Paul Pogba at the back-post but he fired just over the bar on the slide.
In the 66th minute, France went close when Coman found Giroud with a cross but the Arsenal man headed wide. Soon after that opportunity, Griezmann was brought on to replace Coman.
Two minutes later, France very nearly took the lead. Patrice Evra found Giroud with a good cross but the Arsenal man’s header was to be denied by the post.
Ten minutes later, France went close again. After a Payet cross was cleared the ball fell invitingly to Sagna who volleyed over the bar.
With time running out, it looked as though France were going to be frustrated like they were against Romania on Friday. However, just like Payet scored a minute before time against Romania, it was substitute Griezmann who got the winner. After a France corner was cleared, Adil Rami received the ball to deliver a fine cross that was met by a glancing header by Griezmann who headed past Berisha. It was a real sucker-punch for the Albanians, who played and defended so well and deserved a point.
Albania were desperate not to be beaten and attempted search for an even later equaliser. However, in going forward, they left gaps in their defence and France capitalised. France broke on the counter-attack with substitute André-Pierre Gignac who cut inside before losing his footing only for Payet to seize upon the loose ball before cutting inside to curl home in the 96th minute.
That was the last action of the match as France struck late to break the hearts of a spirited Albania side.
The result meant that France top Group A on six points and are the first side to progress into the knock-out stages of the tournament. They are two points ahead of their next opponents Switzerland on four points. Romania are in third with one point whilst Albania are bottom without a point.