Embattled France into last 16 after tough Albania win

France secured a heartstopping 2-0 win over Albania that sent the hosts through as the first team to qualify to the last 16 of Euro 2016.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

France's forward Antoine Griezmann celebrates a goal against Albania.

France may have endured the worst possible build-up to the Euro 2016 but the hosts became the first team to book a place in the last 16 knockout stage of the tournament on Wednesday.

Didier Deschamps' team was stretched well and truly by a valiant Albanian side with France finally managing to break the resistance in stoppage time for a 2-0 win.

Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann came off the bench in Marseille to head the opener in the 90th minute before West Ham United's Dimitri Payet strengthened his reputation by smashing home a second goal deep into stoppage time against the debutants.

"We needed a win to qualify, and it's done," Griezmann told French television.

"The coach had told me that I would be a substitute. I knew it and I wanted to do what I had to do once I got on."

Payet also struck a late winner as France opened the tournament with a nervy 2-1 win over Romania last week.

Two leave-it-late wins left doubts about whether the French side can repeat the success of the 1984 Euros and 1998 World Cup by winning on home soil.

Deschamps surprisingly left Juventus star Paul Pogba and Griezmann on the bench in the only two changes from the game against Romania.

Les Bleus only kicked into gear when Pogba and Griezmann reunited with  man-of-the-match Payet after the half time break.

France next face Switzerland in Lille on Sunday with the Swiss also on the verge of reaching the knockout stage after a 1-1 draw with Romania in Paris.

Slovakia's midfielder Marek Hamsik celebrates after scoring a stunning goal against Russia.

Russian woes

There was not much joy for Russia as Lenoid Slutsky's team suffered a thumping 2-1 defeat at the hands of Slovakia at the Stade de Pierre Mauroy.

The Russians, threatened with expulsion from the competition for crowd trouble, were left on the brink of an early exit from the Euros in a game thoroughly dominated by Slovakia.

Napoli's Marek Hamsik set up the opener for Vladimir Weiss and then came up with a contender for goal of the tournament by smashing into the top corner to give Slovakia a 2-0 half-time lead.

Russia pulled a goal back through Denis Glushakov late on, but a flare briefly lit after they scored could yet provoke further punishment from UEFA.

The result allowed Jan Kozak's team to bounce back from an opening 2-1 defeat to Wales and leaves Russia languishing at the bottom of the group with just one point from two games.

Wales can seal top spot in the pool with victory over England on Thursday.

England's forward Wayne Rooney (C) leads his teammates during a training session in Chantilly, France

Battle of Britain

The all-British clash between England and Wales in Lens and a match between old rivals Germany and Poland dominate a Euro 2016 day of high tension.

There has been plenty of talk ahead of the England-Wales encounter in particular, with Gareth Bale claiming no English player was good enough to make it into Chris Coleman's side.

England boss Roy Hodgson was quick to fend off Bale's comments, having previously labelled the world's richest player "disrespectful" of his squad.

More used to doing battle on the rugby pitch, England and Wales are facing off in a major football championship for the first time and the results of the opening round of games have put the Welsh in the driving seat.

Victory will take them into the last 16 and leave Hodgson's men clinging on for dear life in Group B, but despite the high stakes, England frontman Wayne Rooney said England will go about their task calmly.

Asked what the mindset for the game will be, the England captain said: "The same mentality as we had for Russia. We're preparing for every game the same.

"We're not going to prepare differently because we're playing Wales and we know a lot more of their players as they play in the Premier League."

TRTWorld and agencies