France picked up a dominant 4-1 win over Albania in their UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier game at the Stade de France on Saturday night.
A brace from Kingsley Coman along with strikes from Olivier Giroud and debutant Jonathan Ikone sealed up the deal, while Sokol Cikalleshi pulled one back for his side late into the game.
Story of the Match
Early lead for Les Bleus
Despite missing regulars Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe, Didier Deschamps fielded a strong starting XI. The kick-off for the game was delayed after Andorra’s national anthem was played instead of Albania, causing a whole retake. The visitors had a fiery start, but France quickly reiterated their dominance.
Les Bleus took the lead in the eighth minute when Raphael Varane spotted Coman’s run through, threading a beautiful through-ball allowing the winger to finish from close range. In the 12th minute, Thomas Lemar picked out a cross finding Coman in the far post, as he lobbed the ball for Giroud’s header which was cleared yards out from goal.
The hosts doubled their lead midway through the first-half. Varane was again the orchestrator when his cross-field ball was flicked on by Antoine Griezmann onto Lucas Hernandez on the left. He quickly passed the ball to Giroud, who slotted in cooly past Thomas Strakosha. France had the opportunity to get a third, but Griezmann’s penalty struck the post and out after Hernandez had earned it with a clever run.
No chance for Albania
Les Bleus started the second half with a similar tempo, as Giroud had the opportunity in the 52nd minute to get his brace after breaking the offside trap, but his shot went well wide. A minute later, he linked well with Coman before playing the ball to Lemar, whose shot was deflected over.
France almost scored a picture-perfect goal soon after. Griezmann started it by passing it Lemar, who played it onto Giroud who flicked it back to the Barcelona star inside the box but his shot was valiantly saved by Strakosha. However, France did get their third goal when Giroud linked up with Griezmann on the left, with the latter sending in an inviting ball into the box for Coman to finish from yards out.
Debutant Ikone also got into the score-sheet, driving forward through midfield and playing a one-two with fellow substitute Nabil Fekir before slotting into the net. Albania did get their consolation via Cikalleshi’s penalty after Hugo Lloris brought him down in the dying minutes.
Takeaways from the Game
No Mbappe? No Problem.
So the big news coming into the game was that regular stars Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe were both unfit to participate. This forced Deschamps to change up his system a bit and play Kingsley Coman down the right-wing instead.
Well, it worked out a treat for the hosts with the Bayern Munich winger running rings around Albania’s backline. He strode past his man multiple times, driving into the box to score goals and also looking to create them from the right. Coman’s first-ever national team brace proves that he’s slowly gaining his peak form for the national team, which only amplifies the competition in Les Bleus heavily-packed attacking options.
Antoine Griezmann’s perfect penalty streak ends
Fresh off his heroics at Barcelona, Antoine Griezmann also had a lively outing at the Stade de France on Saturday night. He was all over the place in attack, often getting into promising positions to play some clever passes to open up Albania’s defence. Griezmann had the opportunity to get into the score-sheet but shockingly scuffed his penalty against the post. Incidentally, this was his first-ever penalty miss for France after eight successful attempts.
He fired up in the second half looking to redeem himself, somewhat fulfilling it with a delightful assist for Coman’s second goal and almost finishing off his own chance in the second period.
Jonathan Ikone is going places
Jonathan Ikone was a surprise selection for the qualifiers this week, but after his heroics for Lille in Ligue 1, it was a deserved one. While he didn’t start the game, Ikone received his debut by coming on for Coman.
He almost immediately made an impact with a stylish move, but his hunger for a goal paid off after he beautifully linked with Fekir before scoring on his debut for France. Now, Les Bleus have an unbelievable amount of options involving players much higher in experience than him. However, the Paris Saint-Germain academy product seems a real livewire going forward. Be it his dribbling ability, pace or his compelling finishing, he has it all in him to become the next superstar in Deschamps' side.
Coman took full advantage of his opportunity in an injury-hit France side, bringing a lively spirit to their game with his relentless approach down the wings. showcased his love for dribbling but whizzed past players to score two well-taken goals. Deschamps must be impressed.
His Bayern Munich team-mate, Lucas Hernandez regained his adventurous attitude for France. The left-back bombed forward whenever necessary, often beating the offside line to get behind Albania’s defence and cause them issues. He notched an assist, won a penalty and selflessly put his body in harm's way to get Coman’s second goal done as well.