On the day France advanced to the round of 16, there is a three way battle going on to see just who can get Russia out of Euro 2016 quickest – their fans, UEFA or their players. England swept them to one side for great swathes of the first game. Today, Slovakia far too good for the Russians, constructing a two goal lead, inspired by some terrific play from Hamsik.
Euro 2016 Diary: The Late, Late Show – France Through To Last 16
By Dave Bowler
It was Hamsik’s clever pass that set Weiss away to open the scoring after 32 minutes, but he didn’t need anybody else just before the break when he stepped inside to smash in a shot across the face of goal and into the top corner that was every bit as good as the one scored by Payet against Romania.
Slovakia looked comfortable through much of the second period until Russia found a goal with ten minutes to go. The nerves appeared and it was a real struggle. They desperately needed a win after losing to Wales. In the finish, scoring that second goal when they were so convincingly on top proved crucial. England need to take note of that ahead of the game with Wales tomorrow. That’s one game they simply can’t afford to lose.
Swiss Draw With Romania
Romania were in that position against Switzerland after losing the opener to the French. They were sprightly enough in the first half and got off to the perfect start. Stancu knocked in his second penalty of the competition just 18 minutes in.
The game had a pleasing ebb and flow to it as the Swiss looked to get back into things. A resolute Romania held them off until we saw another fine finish, this time from Mehmedi. He drove in a bouncing ball from 12 yards to level just before the hour.
Both sides went looking for the win, though the Swiss were more convincing about it. Romania were wilting like a boxer on the ropes in the latter stages. They were totally out of gas, hanging on grimly, yet still capable of slinging the odd punch from memory. Subsequently, the draw was fair reward for both, enough to all but book the Swiss passage. Romania are surely going to have to beat Albania to get through.
Home Advantage Helps France
Sometimes we wonder if home advantage is all that it’s cracked up to be, but thus far, the French have underlined the fact that in the right circumstances, it can be priceless, for that was surely the ultimate difference between them and an Albanian side which, if a little limited in quality, was limitless in heart throughout until in the last seconds, they cracked as the French crowd, inside and outside the stadium, willed the ball into their net.
France had changed to a 4-2-3-1 system at the start. In a misfiring first half, it rendered them largely impotent. In such cases, so I’m told, you reach for the little blue tablet. At the break, Deschamps went for the blue clad Pogba and the invigorating effects were immediate. France become both more energetic and, if you’ll pardon the phrase, penetrative.
Even then, it took them to the final seconds before the orgasmic moment – I’m going to labour this analogy to death, don’t worry – arrived, Griezmann, also back on the field after being benched at the start, producing a cute little header to find the far corner and put his side in front, just as Payet had done in the previous fixture.
Hammer Blow From Payet
The West Ham man wasn’t to be denied either though and with Albania on the attack in injury time, Pogba found an extraordinary 80 yard crossfield ball to turn defence into attack in a second, Payet able to drift in from the left and shape a shot across goal and inside the far post.
So appropriately enough, France have become the first side to qualify for the knock-out stages. In doing so, they have suddenly grown in stature. Whether it was a psychological master stroke from Deschamps or not is up to your personal choice. The Pogba that took to the field after the break was the Pogba that has dominated Serie A for the last six months. He was back to his very best. In that mood, he can go on to dominate the tournament.