Antoine powers France into Round of 16
Antoine Griezmann’s late strike and Dimitri Payet’s stoppage time brilliance put an end to France’s 90- minute struggle against Albania and helped them advance to the Round of 16 at Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France on Thursday.
The hosts struggled to find a goal throughout the game against 42nd ranked Albania and just as Albania looked set to script an European upset, substitute Griezmann delivered for France in the 90th minute. Later, in the 96th minute, Payet with his beautiful curling strike sealed the game for the home team.
If not for the last-gasp goals, Albania would have registered their first ever point in an international tournament. Despite the fact that France displayed their dominance in the first game against Romania, the Albanians seemed unfazed and remained compact at the back through the course of the match.
As expected, Albania began by defending deep instead of going all out against France. Payet looked bright yet again as he took two good free-kicks in the first half which were both headed over the bar by Oliver Giroud. While France saw majority of the ball, Albania focused on stopping them from finding a way through. In the 16th minute, Manchester United’s Anthony Martial took a left footed shot from outside the box which was blocked.
Though Albania’s priority seemed to be defence, sensing France’s hastiness, they did try taking chances forward. In the 40th minute, Ledian Memushaj pulled through a good cross towards Ermir Lenjani, who shot from the centre of the box but got his attempt blocked. Even in the first half injury time, Memushaj took a strike from outside the box that just missed the mark. France’s first half performance felt flat in accordance with the calibre of the team while Albania held their ground very well.
Following the beginning of the second half, Anthony Martial was substituted with Paul Pogba, who was a surprise miss from the starting line-up. Pogba, in the 55th minute, came very close to breaking the deadlock from Payet’s cross but his shot was a little too high.
Subsequently, France kept playing the ball and created many chances through Giroud, Payet, Pogba and Kingsley Coman but was unable to capitalise on any of them. The Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann came on for Coman in the 69th minute.
In the last ten minutes of the game, France relentlessly attacked the Albanian goal as Griezmann missed a header and Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante saw their shots thwarted. Albania somehow kept clearing the ball hastily but it never really went beyond their own half.
Like a fruit of their desperate attempts, Antoine Griezmann strongly headed in Adil Rami’s cross following a corner and France finally got their winner. Even as 5 minutes of injury time was added, Albania couldn’t produce much creativity in the midfield and in the 96th minute, Andre-Pierre Gignac made a wonderful run with the ball into the Albanian box but just as he was surrounded by the defence, Payet rose to the occasion and shot a curling strike into the bottom right corner.
Though Albania defended well, the lack of midfield activity cost them as France earned another three points to sit atop Group A with 6 points and advanced to the next stage. Albania after two defeats in 2 games sit at the bottom of the heap.