Euro 2016 Group A – Payet to take centre stage for Albania clash

Perhaps it was inevitable, but there were obvious signs of nerves from hosts and tournament favourites France as they began their campaign on Friday against Romania, where only a stunning late goal from Dimitri Payet prevented them from unexpectedly dropping points. But in the circumstances it was clearly the result that mattered most, and victory over Albania in their latest outing will see them qualify for the knockout stages.

It is a game where anything other than a French victory would come as a major surprise, but Albania showed that, even in defeat against Switzerland, they are a very capable side. On that basis it will not be straightforward, but as the match with Romania showed the presence of players who can produce something from nothing – such as Payet – could be the deciding factor again.

The West Ham United star has deserved his place in the France starting XI and is making up for lost time as far as his national team is concerned. He was involved in everything good about what was a patchy performance against Romania and will again be the player to watch here, while Olivier Giroud vindicated his selection by grabbing the opening goal of the tournament.

Given the fact that little is expected of them, Albania may choose to adopt a more adventurous approach than many might anticipate. Despite playing over half of the game with 10 men they emerged with credit against Switzerland and it was only a lack of composure in front of goal which stopped them from taking anything from the game.

Their best chances are likely to come from set-pieces, so France must defend better from those situations here than they did on Friday, where only goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’ agility kept Romania out. But all in all it is a game that the hosts should control and ultimately take maximum points from.

A clearer image of the probable outcome of this group will likely be established after Romania take on Switzerland, where victory would be enough to take Vladimir Petkovic’s side through into the last 16. They would be the more welcoming side should the contest end in a draw, although the format of the competition means that even teams with no points from the first two games have nothing to play for in their third.

There was little wrong with Romania’s performance against France as they managed the occasion well and did not look overawed, but a goalkeeping error and a wonder strike accounted for them. They will feel that they are at least a match for Switzerland, who were almost made to pay for not taking full advantage of the extra man against Albania.

A fine start saw some enterprising football and a goal for defender Fabian Schar, but gradually they allowed their opponents back into it and were arguably lucky to hold on to what became a very slender lead. There is unlikely to be too much to choose between the two sides, but Switzerland have the superior quality overall and may just edge it.

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