Marseille (AFP) – Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud hailed France’s never-say-die attitude after a last-gasp 2-0 win over Albania on Wednesday sent the hosts into the last 16 of Euro 2016.
Giroud missed a few real chances for Les Bleus, notably hitting the base of the upright with a second-half header at a packed Stade Velodrome in Marseille where second-half substitute Antoine Griezmann broke the deadlock in the 90th minute.
It ended a long and arduous search for the match opener, but only six minutes later West Ham midfielder Dimitri Payet hit his second of the competition to seal a precious win for Didier Deschamps’ men.
As Balkan minnows Albania’s suffered their second consecutive defeat, France look ahead to their final Group A game against Switzerland with a clean sweep of victories in mind.
Giroud hopes any eventual goals in their final group fixture come earlier, but said: “We kept on wearing them down and in the end they cracked, it’s great to know that we have a tough mentality and that we’re willing to go right to the end to get the goals.
“We all want to surpass ourselves in this competition in front of our fans and the whole of France.
“Maybe that little bit of extra spirit made the difference for us tonight. Now, we’re looking to finish top of the group, although the games we have coming up will be difficult including the one against the Swiss.”
After a frustrating first half against a resolutely defensive Albania, Deschamps was soon regretting having left Pogba and Griezmann on the substitutes’ bench.
As widely expected, Pogba replaced Anthony Martial for the start of the second half, inspiring the hosts to a far improved performance.
– ‘Thankfully we corrected things’ –
Seconds after kick-off, a great delivery from Giroud was helped on by Blaise Matuidi, but Kingsley Coman’s header from six yards out bounced just wide.
France suffered a major scare when Bacary Sagna miscued a dangerous delivery that came off the post, bounced off the head of Ledian Memushaj and went out for a goal kick.
Moments later, Payet met Giroud’s nice lay-off to hit an inviting delivery with the outside of his right boot towards the back post where Pogba rushed in only to fire inches over.
When N’Golo Kante made a timely interception to help set up Coman on the left, Giroud timed his jump to perfection but his header glanced wide on 67 minutes.
Coman was replaced by Griezmann soon after, and moments later Giroud rose to meet Patrice Evra’s delicately chipped delivery to fire his header off the post.
Deschamps replaced Giroud with former Marseille favourite Andre-Pierre Gignac with 13 minutes remaining, but it was Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann who broke the deadlock when he rose to meet Adil Rami’s cross to beat Lazio ‘keeper Etrit Berisha.
It broke Albania’s resolve and six minutes later Payet claimed his second of the competition with a fine curling strike that beat Berisha at his far post.
Although he welcomed the win, Giroud said France knew they were in for a tough game.
“We should have played a lot higher up the pitch and stopped them moving up,” he said of France’s first-half performance.
“We could also have added a bit of life to our game… thankfully we corrected things in the second half, when we created even more (scoring) chances.
“It was the kind of match we expected, although it would have helped us a lot if we’d opened the scoring early on. When you do that, it makes things much easier.”