Belfast Telegraph

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France strike late to earn progress and break Albanian hearts

France 2-0 Albania

By Paul Burrows

France needed last-gasp goals from Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet to snatch a 2-0 win over Group A minnows Albania and secure their passage to the Round of 16.

The hosts looked anything but Euro 2016 favourites as they struggled past a side ranked 42nd in the world but, just as Albania looked set to register their first ever point at an international tournament, substitute Griezmann came to France's rescue with less than a minute to go.

Then in stoppage time West Ham star Payet, back on his old Marseille stomping ground, curled in his second goal in two matches to secure their place in the knockout stages.

France had to survive another major scare in the 52nd minute when Ledian Memushaj beat Hugo Lloris but saw his effort come back off the foot of the post.

The ball rebounded to the floored striker but he knew little about it as it bounced off his head and narrowly wide.

Paul Pogba had a chance to break the deadlock shortly after when he slid on to meet an inviting cross from Payet only to blaze over.

Olivier Giroud then headed wide before the Arsenal striker went closer still when he nodded Patrice Evra's cross against the Albanian woodwork.

A late onslaught saw Laurent Koscielny fluff a close-range header, N'Golo Kante denied by a deflection and Andre Pierre Gignac nod wide.

But with 90 minutes almost up Albania's rearguard finally slipped up, leaving Griezmann unmarked to head home Adil Rami's cross - sparking sighs of relief across the stadium.

Then Payet repeated his trick against Romania on the opening night when he jinked into the box and curled home to secure a victory which was far more hard-earned than the scoreline would suggest.

FRANCE: Lloris, Sagna, Rami, Koscielny, Evra, Kante, Matuidi, Coman (Griezmann, 68 mins), Payet, Martial (Pogba, 46 mins), Giroud (Gignac, 77 mins).

Unused subs: Mandanda, Jallet, Cabaye, Schneiderlin, Mangala, Digne, Sissoko, Umtiti, Costil.

Goal: Griezmann 90, Payet 90

Yellow cards: Kante

ALBANIA: Berisha, Hysaj, Ajeti (Veseli, 85 mins), Mavraj, Agolli, Lila (Roshi, 71 mins), Abrashi, Kukeli (Xhaka, 74 mins), Memushaj, Lenjani, Sadiku.

Unused subs: Shehi, Basha, Gashi, Cikalleshi, Aliji, Balaj, Kace, Hoxha.

Yellow cards: Kukeli, Abrashi

Referee: Willie Collum (Scotland)

Match rating: 6/10

Man of the match: Dimitri Payet

Possession: France 59% Albania 41%

Shots on target: France 2 Albania 0

Fouls committed: France 16 Albania 13

Belfast Telegraph