France coach Didier Deschamps has proved himself as a flexible tactician as the hosts have became the first team to reach the last 16 of Euro 2016.
While his predecessor Laurent Blanc rarely tinkered with his team during a game, Deschamps was quick to react when France laboured in a 4-2-3-1 formation in the first half against Albania at the Stade Velodrome in Wednesday’s Group A clash.
Deschamps sent on Paul Pogba and reverted to a 4-3-3 formation which eventually wore down Albania’s defence for a 2-0 last-gasp win.
So a mixture of savoir-faire and sang-froid won the day for France at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
After Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial failed to have an impact on the wings, the Manchester United forward was sent to the bench and replaced by Pogba who brought life into the midfield and boosted the French attack.
“Changing the system helped us press higher,” captain and keeper Hugo Lloris said. “We won the ball higher up, closer to their goal, and it paid off nicely.”
“We discussed things over halftime and the coach made the good choices,” added midfielder Blaise Matuidi.
France attacked more after the interval and, as they gradually broke down a stubborn Albanian defence, Deschamps sent on Antoine Griezmann for Coman in the 68th minute.
Griezmann, who had been disappointing in the 2-1 win against Romania in last Friday’s opening game, looked much sharper and his 90th minute header broke the deadlock.
“It’s a revenge on the game I played against Romania,” he said.
France now face a final group clash with Switzerland on Sunday where they need just a draw to finish top and play their last 16 game in Lyon. For all Deschamps’ tactical choices, it was also France’s character that saw them through.
For the fourth time in their last six games, they won a game in the last few minutes.
“We wore them down and they ended up cracking,” said striker Olivier Giroud. “We’ve got great mental strength, we fight until the very last moment — all together. We want to achieve something great and you have to count on us until the 95th minute.”
Lloris said France needed to start their games better, having once again been too timid in the opening stages.
“We need to put more aggressiveness (at the beginning), or else, we’re going to pay for it,” he said.