Marseille: Hosts France booked the first berth of the Euro 2016 knockout stage here on Wednesday, beating the tournament’s newcomer Albania 2-0 to top Group A with six points, and star midfielder Dimitri Payet was awarded the Man of the Match again. The main thing for France was winning and going through. For 89 minutes, it looked like a frustrating night for Les Bleus, reports Xinhua. In the 90th minute, second-half substitute Antoine Griezmann glanced in a header to gift France a 1-0 lead. Payet, who scored a decisive late goal in the tournament opener against Romania, sealed the win in the sixth minute of second half added time by picking up Paul Pogba’s raking pass, cutting in from the left before curling home a low effort in the box. Payet, 29, who plays for West Ham United, said, “Once again I made the difference.
Second time win in the dying seconds of the match. It’s great.” Payet shone with another creative display. He completed 41 of his 54 passes, and caused Albania plenty of problems with his set-piece delivery, creating six chances for his teammates and racking up an impressive 17 crosses. Euro 2016 is Albania’s first major tournament. The debutants are at the bottom of Group A after losing to Switzerland and France. France had won 10 of their last 11 international matches.
However, Albania were well-organised in the first half, and France were frustrated by a deep-lying Albanian backline until the last minutes. After beating Romania 2-1 and Albania 2-0, France topped Group A with six points, followed by Switzerland with four points, Romania one and Albania none. In Wednesday’s other matches, Vladimir Weiss and Marek Hamsik scored to help Slovakia beat Russia 2-1 in Group B in Lille. Slovakia, who were making their Euro Cup debut in France, went down to Wales 1-2 last Saturday.
Russia, who drew 1-1 with England, will have to beat Wales to keep alive their chances of qualifying for the knockout stage. In Paris, forward Admir Mehmedi’s ferocious volley helped Switzerland earn a 1-1 draw with Romania in the second round of Group A . Romania led Switzerland 1-0 at halftime thanks to Bogdan Stancu’s penalty after Switzerland captain Stephan Lichsteiner pulled the shirt of Alexandru Chipciu in the area. Stancu scored his second penalty of the tournament in the 18th minute from a low shot into the bottom left corner. Switzerland will face France in Lille on Sunday, pursuing the points to guarantee their place in the knockout stage. –IANS
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