France leaves it late to defeat Albania

    euro 2016 a to z france cristiano ronaldo zlatan ibrahimovic pkg_00024830
    euro 2016 a to z france cristiano ronaldo zlatan ibrahimovic pkg_00024830

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    Story highlights

    • France defeats Albania 2-0
    • Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet on target
    • Game was level at 90 minutes
    • France faces Switzerland in final game on Sunday

    (CNN)If you can't be good, be lucky.

    For the second game in succession, France left it late to claim victory as Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet broke Albanian hearts to secure a 2-0 win in Marseille.
      It was a case of déjà vu for France, which had overcome Romania in similar circumstances last week.
      Griezmann's 90th minute header and Payet's delightful finish was harsh on an Albania side playing in its first ever major international tournament.
      It had more than held its own and had hit the post earlier in the contest those in the white shirts of Albania dared to dream.
      This was supposed to be a formality -- a night where France would simply waltz through to the next round of its own European Championship finals.
      After all, this was a team which started the tournament as one of the favorites, a squad blessed with some of the most exciting talent in world football.
      But this was far from vintage from Les Bleus. At times it was almost painful to watch, particularly in the first half where it failed to register a single shot on target.
      Olivier Giroud endured a frustrating night for France.
      France edged out Romania 2-1 in its opening game courtesy of Payet's stunning 89th minute strike.
      But while the win gave Didier Deschamps and his side the perfect start, it did not detract from the laborious manner in which it was achieved.
      As a result, Deschamps made two huge calls -- dropping Juventus star Paul Pogba and Atletico's Griezmann.
      Both men were left on the bench with two youngsters brought in with Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial given the nod.
      It was as a move which would fail spectacularly with both men restored to the team before the end.
      Paul Pogba started on the bench after being dropped by France coach Didier Deschamps.
      But while France will almost certainly have to improve if it is to succeed at this tournament, Albania, will ponder what might have been.
      Nearly a year to the day since it inflicted a famous defeat upon the French in Elbasan, the minnow arrived in Marseille as huge underdog.
      Beaten in its first ever European Championship finals match by Switzerland, it was without suspended captain Lorik Cana, who was sent off in last week's 1-0 defeat.
      Not that it was overawed by the occasion, not at all. Albania, unbeaten in its past two games against the French, began in a confident manner.
      Striker Armando Sadiku came within a whisker of meeting a fine cross from the right as Albania showed it was up for the fight.
      While France enjoyed the majority of the possession it was Albania which continued to look more threatening.
      Ledian Memushaj's corner was whipped in low and Patrice Evra was forced to throw himself in front of Ermir Lenjani's effort and deflect it behind.
      France, so lethargic in the opening 45 minutes, reacted by introducing Pogba at the start of the second half in the place of Martial.
      France's failed to sparkle in a turgid first half.
      And it appeared to work as France came close to taking the lead within the minute of the restart when Coman headed just wide at the far post.
      France, now playing 4-3-3-, appeared more confident with Pogba in the side, but it was given a huge let off just seven minutes into the second half.
      Lenjani, a constant threat going forward, found space inside the penalty area and his touch steered the ball against the post with the added aid of a deflection from France's Bacary Sagna.
      If that was a wake up call for the host it made sure it took notice. Pogba fired just over the crossbar after meeting Payet's cross at the far post
      For the first time in the contest Albania began to look exposed.
      Olivier Giroud, who scored the opening goal of the tournament, headed wide when well placed as France continued to push forward.
      The forward then went close again moments later -- heading against the post after meeting Evra's cross from the left.
      The onslaught showed little sign of abating as France went close again with Laurent Koscielny missing a glorious opportunity when Payet's free kick picked him out unmarked in front of goal.
      N'Golo Kante, a Premier League winner with Leicester City, had a drive deflected wide as Albania appeared certain to hang on.
      But with the game moving into the 90th minute, France finally made the breakthrough when Griezmann met Adil Rami's cross at the far post and headed the ball into the far corner.
      That goal sparked scenes of jubilation and when Payet added a second deep into stoppage time, the party could really get started.
      Through to the next round with a game to spare and without having found form, France can breathe easy ahead of Sunday's game with Switzerland.
      A draw against the Swiss will ensure top spot in Group A but few will disagree that France still has much work to do if it is to repeat the achievements of 1984 and become kings of Europe once again.

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