France moved top of Group A as late goals from Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet secured a 2-0 victory over a bitterly disappointed Albania at Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Wednesday night.
- France 2 Albania 0
- Drab first half ends in stalemate
- Albania’s Memushaj hits the post
- Giroud header strikes the post
- Substitute Griezmann nets late winner
- Payet seals France win deep in injury time
For a match that promised so much, it was unfortunately a rather lacklustre affair as France battled to break down an obstinate Albania defence.
In fact, the match looked to be heading for a goalless draw after both sides struck the post in the second half.
However, with the clock winding down, France eventually made the breakthrough at the death, second-half substitute Antoine Griezmann giving his coach a timely reminder of his quality as he nodded home from Adil Rami’s cross to send the home side’s fans into rapturous celebrations.
There was more to come too, as Dimitri Payet added his name to the scoresheet in the sixth minute of injury time, turning his marker before firing into the bottom corner.
The first half was a drab affair, with neither side managing a single shot on target in an opening 45 minutes that lacked any real excitement.
The best chance of the half came after just four minutes of play, striker Olivier Giroud heading over from the centre of the danger area following Dimitri Payet’s inviting cross from a free-kick.
Albania’s plans of stifling the France attack with a solid defensive block worked a treat as they regularly restricted the attacking flow of the host nation. However, that tactic did come at a cost, as they failed to get out of their own half for large passages of play.
The Red and Blacks had a half-chance in the 13th minute when Ermir Lenjani wriggled clear of his marker about 30 yards out, but the resulting effort on goal flew high and wide.
Albania then went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock on 26 minutes, but France keeper Hugo Lloris was alert to the danger, racing off his line to intercept a cross that flew across the edge of the six-yard box.
After a lengthy lull in play, the first half ended on a disappointing note for Albania as Ledian Memushaj fired his free-kick over the defensive wall, only for the ball to land on the roof of the net.
Thankfully, there was a marked improvement from both sides after the half-time break, in part thanks to France boss Didier Deschamps’ decision to bring on Paul Pogba for the ineffective Anthony Martial.
Dimitri Payet was subsequently shifted into a more advanced position, with Pogba taking up a place in France’s midfield.
The hosts very nearly went on to grab the lead in the 48th minute, but Kingsley Coman couldn’t direct his headed effort on target.
Just four minutes later it was Albania’s turn, Ledian Memushaj striking the bottom of the post before being bundled over the goal line.
France hit back with another goal attempt just two minutes later, half-time substitute Pogba firing a half-volley just over the bar.
And Albania were forced to sit back and soak up the pressure as France grew in confidence as the second half progressed.
Laurent Koscielny headed over from Payet’s inviting cross in the 63rd minute, before Giroud’s headed effort struck the base of the post five minutes later.
However, even after the introduction of forward Antoine Griezmann, France struggled to find the all-important breakthrough as Albania continued to defend resolutely.
Having failed to make his chances count, Giroud was eventually subbed off in the 77th minute, Andre-Pierre Gignac replacing the Arsenal striker.
The introduction of Gignac appeared to give France a lift, with N’Golo Kante going close after seeing his long-range shot deflected wide of the mark on 82 minutes.
And, just when it seemed France would be forced to settle for a share of the spoils, Griezmann popped up at the death to head home from Rami’s pinpoint cross.
France weren’t done yet either, as they caught out Albania with a quick counter-attack deep in injury time, Payet skipping past his marker before firing a low shot into the corner from inside the area.
The win sees France move top of Group A on six points, while Albania remain rooted to the foot of the four-team table following back-to-back 1-0 defeats.