Euro roundup: Albania discovers it can be a cruel game

James Sharman and Faizal Khamisa recap today's France vs. Albania match at Euro 2016, and a look ahead to tomorrow's three games, in particular England vs. Wales.

Here’s what happened on Wednesday on Matchday 6 of UEFA Euro 2016 in France, in case you missed it…

Match report: Russia 1, Slovakia 2 in Lille || Match stats
Match report: Romania 1, Switzerland 1 in Paris || Match stats
Match report: France 2, Albania 0 in Marseille || Match stats

Hamsik a one-man wrecking crew: Marek Hamsik has become a bit of forgotten man in recent years. That tends to happen when you play at Napoli (with all due respect to the club Diego Maradona made famous). A number of stars arrived in France with points to prove for a variety of reasons, among them Hamsik who on Tuesday reminded us all that he is still a player of considerable class. In case anybody forgot, Hamsik remains a game-breaker, someone who can have a tremendous individual impact on matches. Russia dominated possession and dictated the pace, but it was Hamsik who bossed proceedings, and it was his world-class pass in picking out Vladimir Weiss that opened up the Russian defence. Weiss converted the chance, and Slovakia was off to the races. Just before halftime Hamsik was at it again, this time receiving a short corner from Weiss and slipping past his defensive marker before curling a beautiful right-footed strike off the far post and in. They were two moments of absolute brilliance from the Napoli man that carved up Russia. More than that, the box-to-box midfielder’s high-energy game allowed Slovakia to hold on for the win after bunkering down for the final 30 minutes against the desperate Russians. “He was superb with the ball but also helped a lot in defence and scored a beautiful goal,” Slovakia coach Jan Kozak said of Hamsik.

It can be a cruel sport at times: Albania had it. They were minutes away from earning a draw against France and pulling off one of the surprise results of the tournament. For 89 minutes they defended brilliantly—the Albanian block of five at the back effectively squeezing the space on the French attackers who ended up taking 20 shots, but none on target through 89 minutes. Centre back Arlind Ajeti put in a superb shift that ranked as one the best defensive performances of the competition thus far before he was subbed out with five minutes left in regulation. At that point, the game turned. Antoine Griezmann, who started on the bench, headed home an inch-perfect cross from Adil Rami in the 90th minute to rescue France and break Albanian hearts. Emotionally and physically spent, Albania was done, and the French struck again, this time on the counter attack. Paul Pogba, who also started on the bench, had a hand in the setting up Dmitri Payet who slotted home deep into injury time. Don’t be fooled by the final score. It was close, and on the balance of play, a draw would not at all have flattered Albania, who defended brilliantly. This was not vintage France—far from it. Les Bleus have now scored three of their four goals at the 89th minute or later, a sign of how they have struggled to break teams down, even with all of their attacking talent. With the win, France became the first nation to clinch a berth in the Round of 16. With two losses but two credible efforts, Albania is on the brink of elimination. It can be a cruel sport some times.


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In the 45th minute, Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik collected a short corner, gave his man the slip, and then curled in a beauty off the far post and in.

In the 20th minute, Switzerland’s Fabian Shaer unleashed a dipping long-range strike that looked as though it was going to sneak under the crossbar until Romania goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu tipped it over.

France vs. Albania was full of drama and offered up plenty of questions, foremost among them: Could the Albanians hold on and knick a point of the French? Turns out they couldn’t, but it was pretty entertaining to watch.

Russian defenders weren’t too keen to build the attack from out of the back:

France’s Kingsley Coman doing his best Zinedine Zidane impersonation:

Nice to different sets of spectators at this tournament—in this case, French and Albanian fans before the game in Marseille—getting along and enjoying each other’s company for a change.

“[Marek] Hamsik has become mature on a personal and a football level in Napoli. But I think Napoli has become too small for him. He deserves to play at a really big club.” – Slovakia coach Jan Kozak

• Russia has kept just two clean sheets in their last 17 games at the European Championship.
• Slovakia’s Vladimir Weiss and Marek Hamsik are the first players to assist on each other’s goal in a game at the European Championship since Wayne Rooney and Scholes did it for England at Euro 2004.
• The first two penalties at this tournament were conceded by Juventus players: France’s Patrice Evra and Switzerland’s Stephan Lichtsteiner, both against Romania.
• Admir Mehmedi is the first Swiss player to have scored both at the World Cup and at the European Championship.
• Antoine Griezmann is the first French player to come on as a sub and score at the European Championship since Sylvain Wiltord and David Trezeguet in the Euro 2000 final vs. Italy.
• After six days and 15 matches, Euro 2016 has yet to feature a single 0-0 draw.
Stats courtesy of Opta


1) Marek Hamsik, Slovakia: It was a man-of-the-match performance for the Slovakian midfielder, who scored one goal and set up another one.
2) Arlind Ajeti, Albania: He was outstanding marshalling the defence with his perfect reading of the game and timely interceptions. It was telling France scored both goals after he was subbed out in the 85th minute.
3) Dimitri Payet, France: The West Ham star scored deep in injury time to seal the result, but before that he created a lot of chances, and was one of the few attacking starters for France who acquitted himself well.

Matchday 1 recap: Magnificent Payet rescues France || Typical Giroud performance
Matchday 2 recap: England gets what it deserves || Bale already proving his worth for Wales
Matchday 3 recap: Modric pure magic for Croatia || Germany’s Goetze not a false 9
Matchday 4 recap: Spain’s resolve sees them through || Italy’s experience the difference
Matchday 5 recap: Portugal blows it || The hoopla over Kiraly’s pants

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