France, Switzerland target last 16 berths in Euro 2016


Paris (AFP) – Tournament hosts and leading title contenders France can secure their place in the knockout phase of Euro 2016 on Wednesday when they face Group A rivals Albania in Marseille.

Switzerland, who also won their opening match, can effectively clinch a last-16 berth with victory against Romania in Paris, while Russia and Slovakia meet in Lille aiming to improve their Group B prospects.  

Dimitri Payet’s stunning 89th-minute strike steered France to a 2-1 victory over Romania to kick off the competition on Friday, but midfielder Blaise Matuidi knows newcomers Albania cannot be underestimated.

“They’re a team we know well. They’re a team we haven’t had good results against recently,” Matuidi told UEFA.com, with France held 1-1 by Albania in November 2014 before suffering a 1-0 away defeat almost exactly a year ago.

“It’s not going to be an easy match. We saw against the Swiss even with 10 men they had their chances,” he added, as Albania seek their first points after an opening 1-0 loss to Switzerland on Saturday. 

“I think the fact we picked up three points (against Romania) will liberate us a bit.”

However, France will be hoping for an improved performance from midfielder Paul Pogba — tipped to be one of the stars of the tournament — after a disappointing display against Romania. 

Pogba was benched for France’s second game at the 2014 World Cup, but coach Didier Deschamps refused to answer whether that would again be the case at the Stade Velodrome.

After three failed attempts to advance from the group stage, Switzerland can reach uncharted territory at the Parc des Princes.

“The first game gave us confidence. The team is very relaxed. They won their first battle and there are still two battles to fight, the second of which is tomorrow,” said defender Johan Djourou.

Defeat for Romania would leave their qualification hopes hanging by a thread. 

– Early exits? –

Russia’s preparations for their showdown with Slovakia in Lille have been overshadowed by the fallout from Saturday’s violence in Marseille.

UEFA threatened Leonid Slutsky’s team with expulsion from the tournament if there is a repeat of the crowd disturbances that marred their opening 1-1 draw with England. 

“We don’t want to be disqualified from the Euros because of this,” said Russian striker Artem Dzyuba, who said he was irritated by England fans being portrayed as “angels”.

“Our supporters have to focus on just supporting us and we will try to show our best qualities.

“We want to play this competition. We are happy to be here and it will be a big disappointment if we go out,” added the powerful Zenit St Petersburg striker.

While Slutsky expressed confidence Russia would not be sent home early for off-field reasons, Slovakia know another loss could see them eliminated should England beat Wales on Thursday.

The Slovaks are hopeful that left-back Tomas Hubocan, who plays in Russia with Dinamo Moscow, could return after a heel problem, while Ondrej Duda is in line to start after coming off the bench and scoring in the 2-1 defeat to Wales.

“There will be some changes in the lineup, that’s for sure — the game requires them,” said Slovakia coach Jan Kozak.

“What do I think about the Russian coach’s quote that we will be favourites for the game? I hope he’s right, because the favourites usually win the game”.

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