In Review

Griezmann on target as France beat Ireland – England next?

The Boys in Green wilt in Lyon as Les Bleus recover from poor start to book a place in the quarter finals

France 2 Ireland 1. 

Antoine Griezmann is today the toast of France after his two goals took the hosts into the quarter-final at the expense of Ireland to set up a possible clash with England in Paris on Sunday.

The French will be watching with interest this evening as the Three Lions face Iceland in the final last 16 match and though they'll be the favourites to progress to the semis, Les Bleus know they have still a lot of room for improvement.

For nearly an hour on Sunday afternoon France laboured. They got off to the worst possible start, conceding a penalty in the second minute - a European Championship record for a spot-kick - after Paul Pogba's clumsy challenge on Shane Long.

Under a blazing Lyon sun, Robbie Brady kept his cool, send Hugo Lloris the wrong way from the penalty spot, and breathing a huge sigh of relief as the ball went in off the left-hand upright.

France were stunned, the players and their fans, and Ireland didn't sit back on their lead in the first period as they found more space in the home nation's penalty area. Daryl Murphy forced a sharp save from Lloris with a hooked shot and Shane Duffy failed to put away Brady's flighted free-kick.

France were booed off at half time and in the dressing room coach Didier Deschamps knew he had to deliver the team talk of his life to breathe life back into his side. He also made a tactical change, replacing N'Golo Kante (who along with Adil Rami is suspended for the quarter-final) with Kingsley Coman . 

France immediately looked more creative and Pogba's flick on just eluded Laurent Koscielny at the far post. Darren Randolph then saved well from Blaise Matuidi's shot but the Ireland keeper was powerless to prevent Griezmann levelling on 57 minutes when he headed home Bacary Sagna's accurate cross. 

Four minutes later the Atletico Madrid striker had his second, this time running onto a deft header from Olivier Giroud and striking a low shot past Randolph.

Ireland looked drained and they may have been a contributory factor in Duffy's reckless tackle on Griezmann as he surged forward in search of a third. The foul was just outside the penalty area and referee Nicola Rizzoli correctly showed Duffy a straight red.

France laid siege to the Irish goal for the rest of the match and their 20th attempt on goal came, fittingly, from Griezmann in the third of minute of stoppage time but keeper Randolph was up to the task.

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill later took a swipe at the tournament scheduling that gave France three days more rest than his own side, who had only four days between their final group game against Italy and Sunday's last 16 tie. "It took its toll on us in the second half," said O'Neill. "It will sound like an excuse and it's not meant to be. But it is incredible. It really is incredible. 

"We knew at the start of the tournament...if we took our place in the last 16 the chances are there was going to be a big differential between us and some of the sides that we might play in the competition. France, it looked as if it was geared for them to win their group, which they did."

Euro 2016: Xhaka outshines Pogba as Switzerland hold France

20 June

Group A concluded on Sunday night with 180 minutes of forgettable football. One goal was all the two games served up, with Albania beating Romania 1-0 thanks to a header from Armando Sadiku. The win, Albania's first in a major tournament, keeps alive their hopes of reaching the last 16 despite the fact they lost their other two group games.

If they do progress they'll play - depending on how other results pan out in the coming days - either the winners of Group B, which contains England and Wales, or Group C's winners, likely to be Germany or Poland.

As for France and Switzerland, they finished first and second respectively in the group and the point means the French will play in the last 16 the third-placed team from either Group C, D or E - which could be Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland - in Lyon on Sunday.

Switzerland, who have qualified for the knockout stages of a European Championship for the first time, will meet the second-placed team in Group C, which will probably be either Germany or Poland.

But whoever the French meet in the next round they will have to improve on the performance they produced against the Swiss in Lille. Paul Pogba and substitute Dimitri Payet both hit the woodwork for the hosts, the latter almost capping a brilliant move with a sweet volley, but Switzerland should have had a penalty in stoppage time when Bacary Sagna pulled Blerim Dzemaili's shirt.

The former Arsenal defender got away with his foul, however, although it was a new Gunners signing who impressed match over the course of a dour 90 minutes. Grant Xhaka, who signed for Arsenal from Borussia Monchengladbach just before the Euros, had another strong performance. As BBC Sport reports, the Swiss midfielder had 105 touches and made 94 passes, superior to Pogba, who was France's most industrious player.

Despite the fact they finished top of Group A, France have looked far from convincing over their three matches, requiring late goals from Payet to see off Romania and Albania. Yet coach Didier Deschamps was in combative mood when French reporters questioned the quality of his team in the post-match press conference.

"You can always criticise but we kept a clean sheet and we finished top of the group," he said. "Every match is difficult. Apart from Spain... everyone is finding it tough."

Deschamps was also scathing in his assessment of the Lille turf, calling it "annoying", a view shared by Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic, who said of the pitch: "It hampered the quality of the game. It does not hold up well and I hope they can fix it, but it was the same for both sides."

Euro 2016: Paul Pogba denies obscene gesture after France winner

17 June

Paul Pogba has been forced to deny making an obscene gesture towards the media during France's late win over Albania on Wednesday night.

The Juventus midfielder, who walked out on Manchester United at the age of 19, appeared to offer a glimpse of his volatility after team-mate Dimitri Payet netted for France in injury time and wrap up their unconvincing 2-0 victory.

As Payet celebrated, Pogba appeared to direct the "bras d’honneur", or Italian salute, towards journalists.

The claims have caused controversy in France and video and images of the incident have gone viral, reports Sud Ouest.

Pogba has denied the allegation.

"I want to say sincerely, but very firmly that, whatever interpretation you want to take from these images, I never had any intention to make a gesture towards someone or take my revenge on anyone," he said in a statement.

"I was crazily happy by the goal and I turned to the stand where I knew my mother and my brothers were and I did my usual celebration, arms in the air and fists lifted. Nothing more, nothing less." [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_original","fid":"96298","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]] But could the player, valued at £95m and said to be in line for a return to OId Trafford, have been venting his frustrations at being dropped from the team?

Pogba came on at half-time and "sparked a vastly improved display following a limp first half from the hosts", says ESPN, "though coach Didier Deschamps confirmed the midfielder was not happy with losing his starting role."

France 2 Albania 0: France leave it late but get the win

16 June

It was another late show from France as they struggled to break down a dogged Albanian side who looked set to frustrate Les Bleus in Marseille.

It was an 88th minute strike from Dimitri Payet that earned them a win against Romania in Friday's tournament opener, and this time they left it even later as Antione Griezmann and then Payet, with another cracker, made France the first country to qualify for the Euro 2016 knockout stages.

Griezmann struck first, in the 89th minute, a deft header from Adil Rami's cross nestling into the bottom corner of the Albanian net as the clock ticked into stoppage time. There were six minutes of additional time in total, and in the dying seconds Payet added an undeserved gloss to the scoreline, stepping inside his markers and curling the ball just beyond the outstretched hand of keeper Etrit Berisha.

It was tough on Albania, ranked 42nd in the world, who 12 months ago beat France in a friendly and played for most of the match with the belief that they could pull off a similar result. They gave their hosts the odd scare or two, notably early on in the second-half when Ledian Memushaj hit the post.

France, in contrast, looked short of inspiration and Didier Deschamps' decision to drop Griezmann and Paul Pogba from the starting XI wasn't justified by the performances of their replacements, Manchester United's Anthony Martial and Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman.

Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, scorer of France's opening goal against Romania, endured a frustrating night as France failed to muster a single shot on target until Griezmann's header on the stroke of normal time.

Despite the unconvincing display from the host nation, France have taken maximum points from their group games and Payet explained to reporters why this bodes well for the rest of the tournament: "Unity and team spirit were important tonight," said the West Ham United midfielder. "A lot of people were doubting us but we won the game."

And Payet brushed off suggestions that France's inability to kill off games earlier was a worrying sign for the knockout phase. "Since beating Holland in March, we have shown that we can always win games late on, we've been able to score in stoppage time since the start of the competition," Payet said. "We had to be patient. We tried to go through the middle in the first half but used the width in the second. The subs made the difference tonight and we were able to come up with the goods."

France's final game in Group A is against Switzerland on Sunday, while Albania play Romania, who were held to a 1-1 draw by the Swiss in Paris on Wednesday afternoon. It was Romanian's first point of the campaign, and came courtesy of a Bogdan Stancu penalty.

Admir Mehmedi levelled for Switzerland in the second-half and the point leaves them two behind France in the group. Victory against France in Lille on Sunday will take them through as group winners but even a defeat could be enough for Switzerland as they could still finish second in the group, and even if Romania do overhaul them there is the lottery of a third-place finish, with four third-placed teams rounding out the last 16.

Euro 2016 - Group A preview: An easy ride for France?

10 June

Euro 2016's hosts have been drawn against three outsiders in Group A and should qualify for the knockout stages with ease, but things rarely go according to plan for France these days. Here is the lowdown on Group A:

France: Odds 3-1

Didier Deschamps led Les Bleus to glory at the 1998 World Cup and will be hoping he can win another major trophy as manager. However the French camp is rarely free of dark clouds, and the Karim Benzema blackmail affair, which has led to the striker's exile, and claims of racism in Deschamps's selection policy could unsettle the squad.

On the other hand, the personnel Deschamps has at his disposal is impressive. "The hosts have arguably the best and most dynamic midfield in Europe with players such as Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Dimitri Payet and N'Golo Kante," says The Guardian

Switzerland: Odds 66-1

The Swiss have several stars, but failed to trouble England in qualifying. "This is a talented generation of players, with the likes of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri likely to be around for a good few tournaments yet, and a wealth of impressive youngsters coming through also bodes well," says Eurosport. "But they have lacked cutting edge in past appearances at major tournaments."

Romania: Odds 200-1

Anghel Iordanescu's side is short on stars but is well-drilled and hard-working. They will be no pushovers. "Romania's organised and extremely stingy defence is the envy of all other managers at the tournament – they conceded only twice in ten qualifiers," says the Guardian.

Albania: Odds 500-1

The rank tournament outsiders. "Not only have Albania never qualified for a major international competition... they also have only made it to two minor ones," notes ESPN, which adds that the players were presented with Albania's highest civilian award just for qualifying. However, they should not be completely written off as they beat Portufalin qualifying.

FourFourTwo magazine is less charitable. "Albania has produced some fine players in recent years, including Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Shani Tarashaj, all of whom are unfortunately playing for Switzerland this summer," it says.

The key players:

French duo Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid and Paul Pogba of Juventus are two of the most sought-after players on the planet and have the capacity to become the stars of the tournament. They are the stand-out faces in a France squad brimming over with household names, although Anthony Martial may make a bid for stardom after a solid first season with Manchester United.

Switzerland have plenty of stars, too, including young striker Breel Embolo, playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri of Stoke and new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka.

Lorik Cana is probably the only player in the Albanian squad English fans will be familiar with. He spent a season at Sunderland and had four years at Lazio. Now 32, this tournament will be his swansong.

The key matches:

France vs Romania on 10 June is the opening match of the tournament and as such, is a must watch. 

Assuming there are no upsets involving the hosts, the most intriguing game of the group could be Switzerland and Albania on 11 June. The countries have close links and many of the Swiss team have Albanian backgrounds, while several of the Albanian squad could have played for Switzerland. Brothers Granit and Taulant Xhaka will be on opposing sides and this counts as an international derby match. 

Infographic by www.statista.com for TheWeek.co.uk

]France 2 Ireland 1. 

Antoine Griezmann is today the toast of France after his two goals took the hosts into the quarter-final at the expense of Ireland to set up a possible clash with England in Paris on Sunday.

The French will be watching with interest this evening as the Three Lions face Iceland in the final last 16 match, and though they'll be the favourites to progress to the semis Les Bleus know they have still a lot of room for improvement.

For nearly an hour on Sunday afternoon France laboured. They got off to the worst possible start, conceding a penalty in the second minute - a European Championship record for a spot-kick - after Paul Pogba's clumsy challenge on Shane Long.

Under a blazing Lyon sun, Robbie Brady kept his cool, send Hugo Lloris the wrong way from the penalty spot, and breathing a huge sigh of relief as the ball went in off the left-hand upright.

France were stunned, the players and their fans, and Ireland didn't sit back on their lead in the first period as they found more space in the home nation's penalty area. Daryl Murphy forced a sharp save from Lloris with a hooked shot and Shane Duffy failed to put away Brady's flighted free-kick.

France were booed off at half time and in the dressing room coach Didier Deschamps knew he had to deliver the team talk of his life to breathe life back into his side. He also made a tactical change, replacing N'Golo Kante (who along with Adil Rami is suspended for the quarter-final) with Kingsley Coman . 

France immediately looked more creative and Pogba's flick on just eluded Laurent Koscielny at the far post. Darren Randolph then saved well from Blaise Matuidi's shot but the Ireland keeper was powerless to prevent Griezmann levelling on 57 minutes when he headed home Bacary Sagna's accurate cross. 

Four minutes later the Atletico Madrid striker had his second, this time running onto a deft header from Olivier Giroud and striking a low shot past Randolph.

Ireland looked drained and they may have been a contributory factor in Duffy's reckless tackle on Griezmann as he surged forward in search of a third. The foul was just outside the penalty area and referee Nicola Rizzoli correctly showed Duffy a straight red.

France laid siege to the Irish goal for the rest of the match and their 20th attempt on goal came, fittingly, from Griezmann in the third of minute of stoppage time but keeper Randolph was up to the task.

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill later took a swipe at the tournament scheduling that gave France three days more rest than his own side, who had only four days between their final group game against Italy and Sunday's last 16 tie. "It took its toll on us in the second half," said O'Neill. "It will sound like an excuse and it's not meant to be. But it is incredible. It really is incredible. 

"We knew at the start of the tournament...if we took our place in the last 16 the chances are there was going to be a big differential between us and some of the sides that we might play in the competition. France, it looked as if it was geared for them to win their group, which they did."

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