Thursday, 16 June 2016 - 6:40
Euro 2016: Albania Nearly Forces France To A Draw



France are a team that keeps their supporters' hearts in throats. On Wednesday minnows Albania stymied them for 89 minutes. Then just when a draw looked inevitable, a substitute finally broke the ice in a 2-0 win.

Albania were hoping to open their points account in Marseilles, while hosts France had the chance to cruise into the knock-out phase of Euro 2016. French coach Didier Deschamps opted for some rotation, starting N'Golo Kanté and Bayern wunderkind Kingsley Coman ahead of stars Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba.

Les Bleus had the first sniff of a goal after only three-and-a-half minutes. But striker Olivier Giroud couldn't control his short-range header after a free kick. Albania - the tournament's biggest long-shots - weren't content just to park the bus, showing enough attacking ambition to prevent the French from setting up camp in their half.

The Albanian defense also kept the hosts' attackers under control with surprising ease. By the half-hour mark, France had only gotten off three shots. At the other end, the Albanians came close in minute 38 after a deflected corner kick. And an Albanian free kick one minute before the break only went over the cross bar by inches.

All in all, it was not just down to luck that the match was scoreless at half-time.

Deschamps brought on Pogba for the ineffectual Anthony Martial, and Coman nearly got France on track 30 seconds into the new half, but his header went agonizingly wide.

Six minutes on, Albania were even closer to taking the lead when Kanté diverted the ball onto his own post and Ledian Memushaj couldn't get the ball over the line. It was a mark of France's frustration that by the hour mark, the favorites - in particular Pogba and Dimitri Payet - were trying their luck with shots from distance.

More promising was a short cross from Kanté to Giroud in minute 66, but the forward directed the ball well wide. Only two minutes later, Giroud was desperately unlucky only to hit the post on another header. Albania breathed a sigh of relief.

In minute 81, Giroud's Arsenal teammate Laurent Koscielny had the chance to go him one better but failed to get his head on a tailor-made free kick. Would France be able to manufacture another last-ditch winner, as they had in their opener?

The answer was: oui. With one minute left in regular time, 1.75-meter-tall substitute Griezmann finally angled a header past keeper Etrit Berisha and unleashed positive pandemonium in Marseilles. Payet showed his quality in the fifth minute of injury time, curling in a shot to complete the 2-0 scoreline.

The win means that France have qualified for the next round from group A, while Albanian need a result against Romania this Sunday. France will try to win the group outright against Switzerland.


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