Football

Late strikes assure France a place in last 16

THE FINISHER: For the second time running, Frances Dimitri Payet acquited himself well as a playmaker and also bulged the back of the net in the final moments of the game.

THE FINISHER: For the second time running, Frances Dimitri Payet acquited himself well as a playmaker and also bulged the back of the net in the final moments of the game.  

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A 90th-minute header by substitute striker Antoine Griezmann and a stoppage-time special by Dimitri Payet secured France a heart-stopping 2-0 win over Albania on Wednesday that sent the host through as the first team into the last 16 of Euro 2016.

France had struggled to make any impression on a determined Albanian defence and as the clock ticked into the last minute neither team had managed a single shot on target — though both had hit the post.

France had needed an 89th-minute Payet goal to beat Romania in its first game and it was even later this time when centre-back Adil Rami swung in a hopeful cross that Griezmann guided expertly home.

The 67,000 Stade Velodrome crowd — minus 20,000 stunned Albanians — erupted in a wave of noise, which was repeated five minutes later when Payet cut inside to smash in the second.

With six points France is guaranteed to finish in the top two of Group A, with Switzerland, on four points after drawing with Romania earlier, favourite to join it in the knockout phase.

Once the euphoria of the moment had elapsed, Payet was able to take a broad view. “It would be good if we could avoid that type of crazy scenario,” he said after picking up his second successive man-of-the-match award.

“What we have to do is start matches the way we started the second half. With Paul (Pogba) and Griezou (Griezmann) coming on and a different system, it worked a lot better.”

It needed to. France was hesitant and risk-averse in a forgettable first half as the ploy of using the speed of Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial out wide failed to come off.

Gritty defending

Albania, desperate to make a mark in its first major tournament, defended with gusto and almost went ahead early in the second half when French full-back Bacary Sagna bundled the ball against his own post.

With the halftime introduction of Pogba and then Griezmann France eventually got moving as Olivier Giroud sent a header wide then thumped another against a post.

However, with Albania taking every opportunity to slow the game — half the team taking it in turns to go down with cramp — it was looking as if France was going to have to settle for a point.

Griezmann showed Giroud how to connect with a header, with Payet capping another enterprising display by adding the icing after a quickfire break.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 2:55:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/Late-strikes-assure-France-a-place-in-last-16/article14426024.ece

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