France left it very late to beat Albania 2-0 during Wednesday's UEFA Euro 2016 action, booking their spot in the next round in the process.
The Albanians frustrated Les Bleus throughout a drab first half, as the hosts spent 45 minutes prodding and seeking an opening. The second half was more open and entertaining, with both teams hitting the post, and Antoinne Griezmann bagged the opener after 88 minutes. Dimitri Payet added a second goal in injury time.
France will finish the group stages with a match against neighbours Switzerland on Sunday, while Albania will play Romania.
As shared by the tournament's official Twitter account, French manager Didier Deschamps opted to bench Paul Pogba and Griezmann, starting Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman instead:
UEFA EURO 2020 @EURO2020
#EURO2016 #FRAALB Compos officielles Votre avis? https://t.co/bfAKYuJkyr2016-6-15 18:04:45
Per OptaJohan, the Bayern Munich man set a new national team record by starting this match:
20 - Kingsley Coman (20y 2d) is the youngest starter for France in a major tournament, beating Bruno Bellone's record from 1982. Etoile.2016-6-15 18:42:30
Unsurprisingly, Les Bleus took control of possession early while Albania took up positions inside their own half. Payet acted as France's main playmaker, and Patrice Evra saw much of the ball in the opening minutes.
Chances were few, however. France couldn't move the ball at pace, and Albania's defence found it easy blocking their shots. Evra nearly picked out Olivier Giroud with a cross, while on the other side of the pitch, Ermir Lenjani fired Albania's first shot high over the goal of Hugo Lloris.
Payet picked out another fine cross that Giroud headed over, and the Arsenal man appeared a little frustrated as his marker didn't give him any space to work with.
With little of note happening, Mirror Football started looking for other reasons to keep watching:
Mirror Football @MirrorFootball
11 minutes, no goals. Giroud has fallen over once though. Count it! https://t.co/1jpTZiOlTa2016-6-15 19:15:16
Bleacher Report UK's Ryan Bailey got in on the fun:
Ryan Bailey @RyanJayBailey
That moment when the #EURO2016 commentator keeps talking about a yeti and you realise he's saying Albania's Ajeti. #FRAALB2016-6-15 19:26:09
Martial should have done better after Payet picked him out with a nifty pass, but the Manchester United forward took too long to get his shot away, allowing the defenders to close him down.
Albania aimed for the counter-attack and found some success, but Lloris was hardly threatened in the first 20 minutes. Star full-back Elseid Hysaj found some space with a clever touch before getting off a shot, and Lenjani also had another fine look on goal.
Les Bleus grew more frustrated as the half wore on, and ESPN FC's David Amoyal gave full credit to Albania's coach, Gianni De Biasi:
David Amoyal @DavidAmoyal
#ALB Gianni De Biasi is another example of the great Italian school of football managers2016-6-15 19:30:24
Lloris had to intervene after a cross from Hysaj landed in a dangerous area and nearly reached Armando Sadiku as Albania's confidence grew.
France created next to nothing and soon resorted to firing a handful of long balls toward Giroud.
The Arsenal forward had a half-chance off of one of Payet's crosses, but he headed the ball over the bar. Soon after, a set-piece routine from Albania nearly saw the ball end up in Lloris goal. Luckily for Les Bleus, the ball took a deflection, although replays showed Giroud was held back, and France should have gotten a free-kick.
With five minutes left in the half, Pogba was spotted warming up on the sidelines, as France were in dire need of a creative boost. Evra and Andi Lila were involved in a nasty collision as the left-back nearly jumped in the Albanian's neck, and Ledian Memushaj fired the resulting free-kick narrowly over Lloris' goal.
At half-time, Bleacher Report UK made it clear it wasn't impressed with what it saw:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
#FRA vs. #ALB: Half-time highlights #Euro2016 https://t.co/dXbETwY7kr2016-6-15 19:50:22
Pogba replaced Martial at half-time, and Les Bleus nearly took the lead just seconds into the second half, as Coman's glancing header just missed the target. Shortly after, a Payet free-kick missed everyone and curled past the far post.
Lenjani powered the best chance of the match until that point off the post, and he couldn't convert the rebound from close range.
The ball went up and down the pitch at a far higher rate than it did in the first half, and Pogba fired a shot over the goal of Etrit Berisha after good work from Payet.
Burim Kukeli earned the first yellow card of the night for hauling down Pogba to stop a counter, and as he was also booked against Switzerland, he won't be appearing in Albania's final group-stage match.
Payet's deliveries weren't nearly as good as they were against Romania, but when he did find the target, France threatened. Laurent Koscielny headed over from a cross that fell a little short, as Les Bleus kept looking for an opening, but Bleacher Report UK still wasn't impressed:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
Waiting for a shot on target... #FRA #ALB #Euro2016 https://t.co/AwFClYOzKc2016-6-15 20:25:09
Coman fired in a superb cross for an unmarked Giroud, who somehow flicked his header wide, before Deschamps took the youngster off to introduce Griezmann. Just one minute later, Giroud again had a headed chance, but this time, he found the post.
Andre-Pierre Gignac replaced Giroud with 13 minutes left to play, as Deschamps urged his troops to move forward. Bacary Sagna blasted a wild volley over the bar after a prolonged spell of pressure, and Koscielny nearly connected with another free-kick from Payet.
Griezmann just missed a cross from Sagna, and a deflected shot from N'Golo Kante wrong-footed Berisha but just bounced wide. The match seemed destined to finish in a scoreless draw, but with two minutes left to play, Griezmann was left too open in the box, and he easily headed home the opening goal.
Albania pushed forward in search of an equaliser, but that only provided France with more space to work, and Payet scored his second goal of the tournament in injury time to end the contest.
Per Euro 2016's official Twitter account, Deschamps praised Albania for their fine showing:
UEFA EURO @UEFAEURO
Deschamps: "Albania played with a lot of heart and spirit. They defended well & have the ability to counterattack." https://t.co/Vqs13jTNcF2016-6-15 22:02:22
Albania's bid to qualify for the next round seems desperate, but with the four best third-place finishers earning a ticket to the knockout stages, a win over Romania could still see them through.
France have yet to find their best form, but two wins out of two matches means Les Bleus are right on schedule. Switzerland will give them their toughest challenge yet, and that match will give Deschamps an indication of how much work he has left to do.