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Euro 2016: Last-gasp victory sends France through to knockout phase

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Euro 2016: Last-gasp victory sends France through to knockout phase

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  • France first team to qualify for last-16
  • France 2-0 Albania
  • Russia 1-2 Slovakia
  • Romania 1-1 Switzerland

Nerves shredded as France progress

France became the first team to qualify for the knockout phase of Euro 2016 after a nervous 2-0 win over Albania in Marseille.

Having beaten Romania in their Group A opener Didier Deschamps men needed a win to assure their last 16 place with one match spare.

Just as Albania thought they had done enough Antoine Greizmann struck with his head on the 89th minute while Dimitri Payet sealed the win in added time to send the hosts through.

After a disappointing Euro 2016 debut for Paul Pogba and Griezmann France coach Didier Deschamps prefered Manchester United’s Anthony Martial and Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman instead to start this one.

In France’s first competitive match in Marseille in 18 years, the tournament hosts kicked off at a frantic pace and did most of the running early on in the first half.

But ‘Les Bleus’ struggled to make much of an impact in the Albania box with both a nervous-looking Martial and Olivier Giroud denied.

Coman and match-day one winner Payet showed flashes of their talent in midfielder but the end product didn’t match up.

Albania showed they had not turned up just to defend and were dangerous on the break and at set plays.

On 24 minutes Armando Sadiku only just failed to connect with a dangerous and powerful Elseid Hysaj cross at the near post allowing Hugo Lloris to gather while Ermir Lenjani had a decent shot blocked moments later.

Albania finished the half strongly with Ledian Memushaj rattling the netting on top of the goal following a sweetly struck free-kick and although Lloris had it covered, Deschamps sat on the sidelines biting his nails during a period of Albanian dominance.

A half-time manicure and a half-time hair-drying speech was needed by the France boss after the teams went back down the tunnel with the scoreline goalless and the home fans loudly voicing their discontent.

Failed experiment

The experiment of leaving the more established Pogba and Griezmann out of the starting line-up appeared not to work for the first 45 minutes.

To no great surprise Pogba took over from Martial for the second half.

With Pogba on, Payet moved to the left with France back to 4-3-3 formation.

They were on the attack straight away and came close when Blaise Matuidi flicked on to Coman, who flung himself at the ball at the far post but his header bobbled just wide.

Not to be outdone Albania replied to the threat almost immediately and hit the post at the other end as Lenjani tried to bundle in – the rebound struck the midfielder and then went behind.

In an end-to-end first 15 minutes minutes after the re-start Payet had a shot deflected wide while Pogba missed a great chance and fired just over on the half-volley.

The hosts were finally starting to find their stride and were asking more and more questions of the Albania defence.

Griezmann came on for Coman on 67 minutes as France desperately hunted the winner that would send them through to the next phase of their home competition.

The oohs and ahhs were soon to be heard around the Stade Velodrome as Giroud headed onto the base of the far post from 12 yards out with the keeper beaten.

That would be the Arsenal man’s last chance as on 76 minutes he was taken off and replaced by Andre-Pierre Gignac.

Breakthrough

The French continued their increasingly desperate assault on the Albania goal and as the clock ticked down they finally made the breakthrough.

Just like Payet in the opening victory against Romania, Griezmann fired the French ahead in the 89th minute which sent the Stade Velodrome and the entire host nation into mass delirium.

Albania thought they had done enough but The Atletico Madrid man found himself unmarked and clear to nod home from six yards following an inviting cross from Adil Rami.

Albania were understandably shaken and frustrated by the goal and that left them vulnerable.

The French then turned defence into attack as Pogba set Gignac on a break.

The second half sub slipped a pass to Payet who cut inside Taulant Xhaka before unleashing his shot into the far corner for his second of the tournament.

It turned out to be a tough night for the French but the result is what counts and it saw them stumble into the knockout stage of their home tournament with one Group A game to go.

Slovakia stun Russians in Lille

Competition newcomers Slovakia kept alive their chances of making the Euro 2016 knockout stage after beating Russia 2-1 in their second Group B game in Lille

After arguably the most drab first 30 minutes of play so far in this tournament Vladimir Weiss sent the Slovakia fans into wild jubilation whilst waking up the very bored neutrals on 32 minutes.

Marek Hamsik delivered a superb 45-yard pass down the inside-left channel to Weiss who caught the Russia defence napping. After darting into the box he switched back to his right foot and unleashed a fine curling effort past Igor Akinfeev.

Weiss became the first non-European-based player to score at these Euros (he plays for Al-Gharafa in Qatar).

Hamsik went from provider to goalscorer on the stroke of half time with an absolute cracker.

After receiving the ball just inside the box on the left side, he wrong footed his marker and fired in a glorious curling shot that pinged in off the far post.

Slovakia dominated the most part of the second half although it became a nervous final few minutes for Slovakia after Russia pulled one back from nowhere.

A slick one-two on the edge of the box resulted in Oleg Shatov delivering a fine lofted cutback for the late-arriving Denis Glushakov.

The Spartak Moscow midfielder clinically planted his header into the far corner to give Russia a glimmer of hope with nine minutes remaining.

Despite Russia’s late attacking onslaught of the Slovakia goal they couldn’t find the equalizer and suffered their first defeat of the campaign.

Slovakia meanwhile picked up their first points of the tournament and with them kept alive their chances of grabbing a spot in the last-16 on their debut appearance at the European Championship.

Swiss creep towards last-16

Switzerland inched closer to the Euro 2016 knockout phase after playing out a 1-1 draw with Romania in Paris

Switzerland were sluggish in the first half and lacked the finishing needed in front of goal.

They paid the price for that early on when Romania went 1-0 ahead after 18 minutes of play.

Alexandru Chipciu battled his way into the Swiss box and was pulled down by Stephan Lichsteiner.

Bogdan Stancu stepped up to take the resulting penalty and low shot into the bottom left corner to hit his second goal from the spot at this tournament so far.

Switzerland’s reply came just after ten minutes into the second half.

After Romania failed to deal with a corner kick the ball runs into the path of Admir Mehmedi. The Bayer Leverkusen winger caught his strike on the bounce to ram it home from 15 yards and pull his side level.

On 64 minutes forward Haris Seferović, who missed three clear chances in the first half, was replaced by 19-year-old Breel Embolo.

The lightning-quick Embolo proved quite the handful for the Romanian defence and his introduction helped the Swiss change gears and pose more of a threat.

But neither side were able to clinch the win late on as the points were eventually shared.

Switzerland now have four points from two Group A games while Romania have one point with one round of group matches left.

For a team with such potential it turned out to be an underwhelming performance from Vladimir Petkovic’s men with the team’s star midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka failing to shine.

As for Romania, it was the first point on their Group A account and with three teams potentially going through, that point could prove crucial in seeing Anghel Iordanescu’s charges advance to the last-16.

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Player of the day

Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik for inspiring his side’s 2-1 defeat of Russia.

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