Marseille (AFP) – Late goals by Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet in Marseille secured the win against a stubborn Albania side as well as a slot in the last 16 in another late show for Euro 2016 hosts France.
“This is becoming a bit of a habit, I’d prefer us to break the deadlock a bit earlier,” coach Didier Deschamps told media afterwards.
Until the closing stages it had been a frustrating night for France, with Manchester United’s Anthony Martial and Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman in for Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, struggled to break down Gianni de Biasi’s well-drilled side.
The Italian coach had signalled before the game that his team would try to counter-attack, and Albania constantly threatened on the break in the first half, particularly from Napoli defender Elseid Hysaj down the right, and Ermir Lenjani down the left.
“It was tricky for everyone, Albania played with heart and spirit, they tried to score, they countered very quickly, but in the second half we were more aggressive,” he said.
Deschamps admitted both dropped players were unhappy at being put on the bench.
“Griezmann had a busy season, we have three games in nine days, and he played 60 minutes (against Romania),” Deschamps said.
Martial and Coman both took time to settle, the former well-patrolled by Hysaj, although the Bayern star, who just turned 20 on Monday, almost scored at the start of the second half, heading just wide.
As widely expected, Pogba replaced Martial for the start of the second half, helping the hosts to an improved performance against a backdrop of raucous noise from both sets of supporters at the first competitive match for Les Bleus at the Stade Velodrome since France’s triumphant 1998 World Cup campaign.
Payet was the main conduit for French danger throughout, orchestrating waves of attacks through a tiring Albanian rearguard, but the game looked set for a draw until Griezmann made his move.
A replacement for Coman, he rose with perfect timing in the 90th minute to meet Adil Rami’s cross from the right and place a header wide of Berisha.
“Some people were doubting him but once again Griezmann showed what he can do,” Deschamps said.
“Often it’s the players that come off the bench that make the difference”.
Six minutes later deep in stoppage time, the outstanding Payet, awarded man-of-the-match for the second game in a row, scored his second of the tournament to finally end the brave resistance of the Balkan minnows.
Like his late winner against Romania, cutting in from the wing, this time from the right, he curled another long-range effort past the keeper’s far post, sending the capacity crowd at the Stade Velodrome into raptures.
“We have got six points, we have qualified, clearly we didn’t do everything well, but if you have seen a team that has please tell me as I’ve watched the games as well,” Deschamps said.