Competition: UEFA European Championship
Fixture: France v Albania
Date: Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Venue: Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Kick off time: 1900 hours GMT
France take on Albania in Group A as the hosts get us off to the second round of Group fixtures in the ongoing European Championships. The hosts are top of their Group after having won their opener against Romania on Friday.
France’s form: W-W-W-W-W
A brilliant goal from Dimitri Payet made sure of the victory for the host nation on Friday evening as les bleus edged past Romania 2-1. Olivier Giroud had opened the scoring from a header that came off a cross from Payet before Romania drew level from the penalty spot. Payet provided reprieve for the hosts with a screamer of a strike.
France had a strong run coming into the Euro 2016 finals with wins over Netherlands, Russia, Cameroon and Scotland. They beat Netherlands and Russia in their March friendlies with Blaise Matuidi’s late strike sealing a 3-2 win in Amsterdam with Antoine Griezmann and Giroud getting on the score-sheet. This was followed by a 4-2 win over Russia where Ngolo Kante, Andre Pierre Gignac, Payet and Kingsley Coman hit the back of the net.
Matuidi, Giroud and Payet were on target yet again for France when they beat Cameroon 3-2 in the first of two friendly matches in the run up to the finals. They went on to win much more comfortably against Scotland with Giroud hitting a brace while his Arsenal teammate Laurent Koscielny also grabbed a goal.
Albania’s form: L-W-W-L-L
Albania suffered a 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in their Group A opener here in France. A fifth minute strike from Fabian Schar turned out to be the decider in the end. Skipper Lorik Cana was sent off presenting his manager with a bit of a headache for this upcoming fixture.
The team had met Qatar and Ukraine in the run up to the tournament. While they beat Qatar 3-1, the side were subjected to a 3-1 defeat by Ukraine. Arlind Ajeti, Ermie Lenjani and Armando Sadiku were on target for Albania against Qatar. Sadiku had also found the back of the net in the loss to Ukraine.
The side had also been in action in a couple of friendly matches in March. They lost 2-1 to Austria before defeating Luxembourg 2-0 away from home. Lenjani found the back of the net against Austria while Sadiku and Sokol Cikalleshi scored against Luxembourg.
Key Players and Team News
France: Manager Didier Deschamps will have major selection dilemma ahead of this upcoming game. He chose to start Paul Pogba in an advanced midfield role against Romania. However, Pogba’s substitution for Anthony Martial allowed Payet to move into a more central role and ultimately resulted in the winner.
Griezmann was definitely not at his best but one man who is on top of his game is Giroud. Although he has been booed by his own fans, Giroud has managed to hit the back of the net quite consistently for his country.
Deschamps might chose to start with Pogba alongside Kante while sacrificing Matuidi from the starting XI on Wednesday. That will allow him to play Payet more centrally with Martial and Griezmann out wide behind Giroud as the sole striker.
Bacary Sagna is prone to defensive errors but is an asset at right back. Patrice Evra has lost his pace with advancing age and it was his clumsy foul in the box that led to the penalty against Romania. Adil Rami and Laurent Koscielny were not very comfortable at the center of defense but one would expect them to get better as the tournament progresses. Skipper Hugo Lloris is a beast between the sticks however and made some crucial saves on Friday.
Albania: The Albanians play a 4-3-3 with Sadiku and Lenjani doing most of the attacking work. The duo have scored a lot of goals in the run up to the Euros and their teammates will look in their direction for inspiration.
The spotlight shone on Taulant Xhaka in their last fixture against Switzerland as he went to battle against his brother Granit Xhaka, who represents Switzerland. However, the Arsenal new-boy and Switzerland’s captain completely ruled the midfield and was man-of-the-match showing that Taulant has a lot to learn yet.
The team play very conservative football. They defend deep and as a unit, leaving very few gaps for the opposition to exploit. They look to counter quickly with Odise Roshi, Lenjani and Sadiku when they get the ball. The approach has been found wanting against quality opponents because the best players have a knack of finding the defense splitting passes that lead to their undoing. Albania have struggled to get back into matches where they concede first.
Albania do not have as much talent in their playing squad and will adopt a pragmatic approach to the game. However, with Pogba, Payet and Martial playing in behind a goal-scoring forward in Giroud, its very unlikely that Albania will have any joy. Giroud is 11/10 at bet365 to be anytime goal-scorer.
France (2/9 at bet365) have a wealth of talent all around the pitch and have been a very strong team at home traditionally. Their win on Friday will allow them to play with more confidence and express themselves on the pitch. It is a dangerous time for any team to face the hosts in such ominous mood.