MARSEILLE, June 16: Dimitri Payet scored yet another impressive goal as France left it late once again, overcoming a spirited Albania 2-0 to become the first team to advance to the knockout stages of the European Championship on Wednesday.
It's becoming quite a theme: early nerves, laborious first halves, chances spurned and rising star Payet popping up with a spectacular late goal.
"It's true that I managed to make the difference again," Payet said. "Things went well again for me tonight."
This time, his strike deep into injury time did not win the game like his last-minute goal in Friday's 2-1 win against Romania did as forward Antoine Griezmann had already headed his team ahead in the 90th.
"I would prefer us to break the deadlock a little earlier," France coach Didier Deschamps said.
Leaving it late is not ideal — certainly not for frayed French nerves, including those of French President Francois Hollande, who jumped out of his seat and thrust his arms in the air when Griezmann scored. And the Stade Velodrome rose as one to hail Payet after another outstanding finish a few minutes later.
With grace and poise reminiscent of France great Zinedine Zidane, Payet cut in from the left and beat two players before firing in the second goal.
He was France's creative force and is fast forging a reputation as both a supplier of chances and a finisher of lethal quality.
"He's always had ability," Deschamps said. "He's got a lot of confidence."
It was cruel on Albania, which nearly took the lead early in the second half when right back Elseid Hysaj drove in a powerful cross that France defender Bacary Sagna turned onto the post while under pressure from midfielder Ledian Memushaj.
"We didn't just defend," Albania coach Giovanni De Biasi said. "We had good chances."
France meets Switzerland in its last Group A match in Lille on Sunday, when the Swiss are hoping to qualify for the knockout stages of the European Championship for the first time.