France earned another last-minute victory thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s header in the 90th minute and Payet’s 95th minute winner, after a valiant Albania kept the French side out for the majority of the game with some excellent defending. The result means that France are through to the knockout stages, while Albania are all but out of the 2016 UEFA Euros.
Didier Deschamps named a shock lineup, with Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann rested and Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial coming in their place. Lorik Cana, Albania’s captain missed the game due to a red card picked up in the previous game.
France XI: Lloris, Sagna, Koscielny, Rami, Evra, Kante, Matuidi, Coman, Payet, Martial, Giroud
Albania XI: Berisha, Hysaj, Mavraj, Ajeti, Agoli, Kukeli, Abrashi, Xhaka, Roshi, Lenjani, Sadiku
After La Marseillaise was belted out inside the Stade Velodrome, there was a rousing spell of applause for a police chief that was killed dealing with terrorists. It was, on reflection, a perfect microcosm of the varying shades of blue surrounding this tournament – one that has been lit up by artistry on the pitch, and saddened by the savagery off of it.
It was the hosts who started the stronger, with Olivier Giroud flashing a header over the bar from Payet’s wonderful set-piece delivery, although to call it a ‘chance’ would be overly generous. Albania were proving to be stubborn opponents, and indeed looked fairly threatening in their attacks, although N’Golo Kante proved to be a barrier extraordinaire ahead of the French defence.
Sadiku nearly gave Albania a shock lead in the 26th minute, almost getting on the end of a long ball, but Hugo Lloris scooped the ball up. France’s struggles to create anything of note had the partisan Marseille crowd cheering when Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann began to warm up on the sidelines.
Lenjani almost scored from a low corner into the box in the 38th minute, but the Albanian saw his effort deflected by Evra out of play, with France heaving a sigh of relief. Evra received some treatment for a clash minutes later, and Albania almost made France pay in the final minute of the first half, with an unmarked Mavraj heading over from a corner, thus ensuring the half ended with no shot on target.
Deschamps made the obvious change at the start of the second 45, with Pogba coming on for a disappointing Anthony Martial. The second half started in a manner in stark contrast to the first, with Coman and Martial going close for the French after some suicidal Albanian defending, although it was the ‘visitors’ who came closest with Memushaj striking the post from a right-wing cross in the 51st minute.
Pogba nearly opened the scoring minutes later, volleying a ball well over the bar after Payet’s cross from the left wing fell to the unmarked Juventus midfielder at the far post. As Albania began to retreat on the hour mark, France began to amp up the pressure with Giroud flashing a header wide and then hitting the woodwork with a downward header from Evra’s left-wing cross in the 69th minute.
Griezmann and Gignac came on for France as Deschamps attempted to break Albania’s stubborn defence. The change almost proved fruitful, as Sagna and Koscielny came close after a couple of excellent balls by Payet into the box, but the game remained scoreless going into the final 10 minutes.
With the game heading for a frustrating result, up popped Griezmann to rescue the game for France. Adel Rami sent in a peach of a cross from the right-wing and Griezmann hung majestically in the air to power home a header in the 90th minute, and send the entirety of France into raptures while simultaneously breaking valiant Albanian hearts.
Dimitri Payet rounded off the celebrations with a counter-attacking goal in the final seconds, who cut inside and lashed home to spark off renewed scenes of celebration at the final whistle.