Wednesday, 15 June 2016

France 2-0 Albania: Substitute Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet snatch late victory for Didier Deschamp

There used to be a saying about never changing a winning team in football. It is tempting to wonder what happened to it.
For this game in Marseille, France coach Didier Deschamps chose to leave out two of the players who had contributed to his team's opening win against Romania. The omission of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann had been well-trailed in the French media but it was still a surprise in its own way.
What is clear is that it didn't work. France were dreadful before half-time, failing to manage a single shot on target in front of an imploring local crowd.
France substitute Antoine Griezmann celebrates after scoring in the 90th minute against Albania on Wednesday evening

France substitute Antoine Griezmann celebrates after scoring in the 90th minute against Albania on Wednesday evening
Atletico Madrid maestro Griezmann scores the opening goal during the European Championship tie to send French fans wild

Atletico Madrid maestro Griezmann scores the opening goal during the European Championship tie to send French fans wild
West Ham United star Dimitri Payet rounded things off in style with a whipped finish into the corner of the Albanian net

West Ham United star Dimitri Payet rounded things off in style with a whipped finish into the corner of the Albanian net
Saint-Pierre-born Payet kicked the corner flag with both feet in celebration after yet another goalscoring display for his country

Saint-Pierre-born Payet kicked the corner flag with both feet in celebration after yet another goalscoring display for his country
Olivier Giroud looks up to the heavens after a missed chance for France against Albania at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille

Olivier Giroud looks up to the heavens after a missed chance for France against Albania at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille
Giroud leaps highest to head against the post in one of several agonising moments for the French supporters on Wednesday night

Giroud leaps highest to head against the post in one of several agonising moments for the French supporters on Wednesday night

So after the interval on came Pogba and France improved. They would have scored sooner had Olivier Giroud known where the goal was. 
Then, much later, Griezmann came on to head the winner with a few minutes left and Deschamps celebrated as though he has just pulled off the greatest managerial masterstroke of all time.
He hadn't, though. Not at all. He had just got lucky. Very lucky.
There was still time for another French masterpiece from Dimitri Payet. He was the best player on Wednesday night and is the stand-out player of the tournament so far. 
His injury time goal was beautifully and magnificently taken, thrashed and placed into the far corner with that wand of a right foot both at the same time.
But even that should not shield Deschamps from the truth. The French manager tried to be smart here and almost got stung. It will be interesting to see if he does it again.
Lost among the fanfare for Dimitri Payet's stunning winning goal for France in Game One was the fact that the host nation didn't really play all that well. During a dreary opening half here, there was no such disguise.
France are not without talent but they have frailties too. They lack a convincing, through-the-middle centre forward, for example, and their two full backs, Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, are not the players they once were.
On the south coast on Wednesday night we saw evidence of this along with a weakness defensively at set pieces. It was not a good combination and France struggled as a result, to the extent that they didn't manage a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.
Before kick-off there had been news that was surprising and not surprising all at the same time. 
The French media had suggested for two days that the golden child Paul Pogba would not start this game and they were proved right. Still a bit of a head-scratcher, though, that one.
Kingsley Coman (No 20) goes up for a header as Paul Pogba (No 15) - who replaced Anthony Martial at half time - lies on the floor

Kingsley Coman (No 20) goes up for a header as Paul Pogba (No 15) - who replaced Anthony Martial at half time - lies on the floor

Midfielder Blaise Matuidi (left) tries to beat Albania's Burim Kukeli (centre) with France team-mate Coman in support (right)

Midfielder Blaise Matuidi (left) tries to beat Albania's Burim Kukeli (centre) with France team-mate Coman in support (right)
Manchester City right back Bacary Sagna (No 19) clears while under pressure from Albania's French-based No 3, Ermir Lenjani

Manchester City right back Bacary Sagna (No 19) clears while under pressure from Albania's French-based No 3, Ermir Lenjani
Hammers playmaker Dimitri Payet (right) drives forward for France with Andi Lila (No 2) in hot pursuit for Albania

Hammers playmaker Dimitri Payet (right) drives forward for France with Andi Lila (No 2) in hot pursuit for Albania
There was also no place for forward Antoine Griezmann while Manchester United's Anthony Martial started down the left and 20-year-old Kingsley Coman became the youngest player ever to represent his country at a major tournament.
As the start of the game loomed, there was no shortage of atmosphere in this cavernous stadium. The last time we saw photographs of it, we saw Russian hooligans vaulting seats to chase the English. Here, at least, there was only colour and life and celebration.
A shame, then, that the early football didn't match up.
France were the more progressive team. They enjoyed the possession and created the early half chances. There was no sharpness in the final third, though. There was no cutting edge.
To nobody's surprise, Payet was France's best player once again. His use of the ball was smart and his ability at set pieces a persistent worry for Albania. Too often, though, Payet was let down by those ahead of him.
Olivier Giroud could not be blamed for heading a difficult early chance over but Martial was too slow to release a shot when played in by Payet in the 21st minute, just as he had been when supplied by Blaise Matuidi six minutes earlier.
Much of France's play was coming down their left side so Martial was often involved. But he didn't look at his sharpest and though we know him too well to suggest he was cowed by the occasion, he did seem to be lacking his natural instinctiveness.
Coman saw less of the ball down the other side but did contribute one dextrous turn to leave Burim Kukeli in the dust, even if the low cross that followed was gobbled up by Albania goalkeeper Etri Berisha with sime comfort at the near post.
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (left) claims the ball from a cross while under pressure from Albania's No 10 Armando Sadiku

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (left) claims the ball from a cross while under pressure from Albania's No 10 Armando Sadiku
Manchester United and France forward Martial (No 11, right) looks focused as he runs with the ball during the first period

Manchester United and France forward Martial (No 11, right) looks focused as he runs with the ball during the first period
A bizarre moment occurred in the first half as 29-year-old Giroud's shorts came down to bear his cycling shorts/undergarments

A bizarre moment occurred in the first half as 29-year-old Giroud's shorts came down to bear his cycling shorts/undergarments
Juventus' former United left back Patrice Evra (right) holds off the challenge of Lila to win the ball back for his country

Juventus' former United left back Patrice Evra (right) holds off the challenge of Lila to win the ball back for his country
That apart, France worked hard without inspiration. Albania, meanwhile, seemed less ambitious but they did grow into the game as it wore on. A combination between Andi Lila and Elseid Hysaj saw Armando Sadiku narrowly fail to reach a cross speared to the near post while Evra was alert enough to block a first time shot from Lenjani after the underdogs had worked a neat corner routine from the left shortly before half-time.
Deschamps had clearly seen enough of not seeing enough and brought on Pogba at half-time. Experiment failed. Experiment over.
Co-incidentally or otherwise France promptly raised themselves and the tempo of their football as Coman dived bravely to head a Giroud cross wide, a Payet free-kick drifted past the same upright and then another Payet delivery – this one with the outside of the right foot – allowed Pogba to fizz a half-volley just over.
In between all this Albania scooted down the other end and a delivery across goal saw Sagna nudge the ball on to his own post under pressure from Sadiku.
At last it was interesting and the crowd responded to roar France forwards. Again most of the play was down the left but by now there was more urgency, fluency and danger. This was typified with 22 minutes left when N'Golo Kante fed Coman, who had switched sides, and his cross presented Giroud with a header that he couldn't land on target.
That was a bad miss by the Arsenal player but a moment later he did better with a harder chance as he nodded Evra's hanging ball down and against the post from 12 yards.
After that, the French race seemed run. But Griezmann showed Giroud where the goal is by heading in Adil Rami’s cross in the 90th minute before Payet cut inside an exhausted Albania defence to deliver a stunning coup de grace.


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