Substitute Antoine Griezmann eased France’s frustration in Marseille with a 90th-minute header, before Dimitri Payet made certain, as Les Bleus overcame a dogged Albania side to become the first team into the UEFA EURO 2016 knockout stage.
Didier Deschamps’ men were running out of time and ideas when Griezmann met Adil Rami’s cross from the right, breaking Albanian hearts. Payet curled in a second in the sixth minute of additional time, giving the Group A scoreline a somewhat flattering appearance.
Gianni De Biasi’s disciplined charges had made light of the absence of their suspended captain, 91-cap former Marseille player Lorik Cana.
Set up in a 4-5-1 system, they did their best to quell the partisan crowd. Albania negotiated the first period with little cause for alarm, their relative comfort highlighted by the fact their opponents failed to register a shot on target.
France survived a scare early in the second half when they laboured to deal with Armando Sadiku’s cross into the area, the ball hitting Bacary Sagna and striking Hugo Lloris’s left-hand upright.
Substitute Paul Pogba blazed over as the contest became increasingly frenetic, before the in-form Olivier Giroud headed a Patrice Evra centre against a post.
They were saved by Griezmann, Payet’s strike then icing the cake. Man of the match: Dimitri Payet France’s match-winner in the opening game, the West Ham man did it again as he capped off an impressive display with the last-gasp effort that clinched it on his old stomping ground in Marseille. His set pieces caused Albania plenty of crosses and he created six chances for his team-mates.
He was No1 on the Player Barometer before today; he will take some shifting on this evidence. Hot streak ends Olivier Giroud entered the game having scored eight goals in his last six starts.
He spurned his best chance after 68 minutes, glancing wide Kingsley Coman’s left-wing delivery. Moments later the No9 rattled the woodwork, an unsatisfying evening’s work coming to a close when he was replaced by local favourite André-Pierre Gignac with 14 minutes left.
Deschamps’ dalliance with 4-2-3-1 – he had drafted in Coman and Anthony Martial for Griezmann and Pogba respectively – did not last long. With France having lacked any sort of fluency, Martial made way for Pogba at the interval and immediately the two-time winners asked more questions of the opposition.
Une ambiance extraordinaire’
Stade Vélodrome had witnessed a couple of memorable France victories – the extra-time thriller against Portugal in the EURO ’84 semis and the 3-0 defeat of South Africa in the hosts’ 1998 FIFA World Cup opener.
Tonight was another, the 68,000 fans helping to generate what Emmanuel Petit, who played in that latter match, referred to in Wednesday’s edition of regional newspaper La Provence as the stadium’s “awesome atmosphere”.