France vs Albania: Les Bleus aim to seal quarter-finals berth

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France will be looking to secure their spot in the quarter-finals as they take on Albania at the Stade Vélodrome on Wednesday evening.

32 years after winning the Euro on home soil, and 16 years since their last triumph in this competition, France are hoping to join the likes of Spain and Germany who have three Euro titles to their names. Les Bleus, however, did not start off as comfortably as they would have liked. Although they managed to pull off a deserved win over Romania, it was a very tense and at times, uncomfortable match for Didier Deschamps’s men.

Despite controlling the play for large spells of the game, Romania held firm – and even ventured forward to attempt to threaten France’s goal. Olivier Giroud finally broke the deadlock early in the second half, only to see his efforts cancelled out when the Romanians were handed a questionable spot-kick following a foul by Patrice Evra in the box.

One could hear the collective groan of frustration around the stadium when Romania pulled one back after converting the penalty. And just when it seemed like two valuable points would be lost, West Ham’s Dimitry Payet popped up with a fantastic long-range strike to give the hosts a late win and set them up nicely to enter their match against Albania full of confidence.

Much of the talk was about Payet’s wonderstrike, and one player who will be eager to make sure he’s back in people’s conversations will be Antoine Griezmann. The Atletico Madrid man had a very quiet and frustrating evening last Friday, but given his impressive prolific form for Los Rojiblancos this past season, the diminutive attacker will be in inspired form to open his Euro account – especially considering that Albania will be without a key man in defense.

In terms of other key personnel, there were reports that both Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi were both struggling with some slight knocks, but the Juventus and PSG midfielders have reportedly resumed full training.

As for Albania, they were seen as the weakest team in their quartet due to their inexperience on the international stage. However, Gianni De Biasi’s side put in an excellent shift against Switzerland, and to be honest, were quite unlucky to end up on the losing end. Whilst a 1-0 loss is not the worst thing that could have happened to a debutant, it nonetheless means that they have zero points. And they will need to get something out of this game if they want to have any chance at securing a spot in the next round.

Unfortunately, they will have to do this without skipper Lorik Cana. The experienced defender was given his marching orders in the first half after a moment of madness saw him commit a shocking handball blunder, and now De Biasi will have to figure out how to organize his team without the leadership of the Nantes man.

Historically, it’s no surprise that France enjoy the competitive advantage. Les Bleus have won every single one of their four competitive fixtures, whilst scoring a whopping 11 and conceding just once. However, here are two stats that may just give Albania’s supporters a glimmer of hope. First, France have not beaten Albania since 2011. And second, those wins were in competitive matches.

So what does that mean? Specifically, Albania, in recent times have managed to frustrate the Euro 2016 hosts. Their last game, a friendly tie in 2015, ended as a surprise win in their favor, and they held them to a draw in 2014.

But here’s an added twist: France have not lost their past four matches in Marseille (three wins, one draw). So will Les Bleus make it five wins in five competitive meetings? Or will Albania make it a third match without defeat to throw a major monkey wrench in France’s qualification plans?

Michelle Bonsu

Freelance football journalist based in New York. Primarily support AC Milan as well as the Ghanaian and Italian NT’s, but you’ll find me watching the Bundesliga and Premier League as well–enjoy a good game, regardless of where it’s being played. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of my favourite players.