France coach Didier Deschamps paid tribute to the spirit of his players after they left it late to score in a 2-0 win over Albania that clinched their place in the Euro 2016 knockout stage.
Albania looked to be on their way to a historic stalemate at Stade Velodrome before second-half substitute Antoine Griezmann connected with Adil Rami’s cross in the 89th minute and headed France into the lead.
Dimitri Payet added gloss for France with his second of the tournament and the home supporters celebrated while Albania were left to rue a late collapse after such a resolute display in Marseille.
Deschamps admitted his team started slowly, but paid tribute to their determination, saying: “The players have a lot of heart.
“We did not start flat out and we didn’t have too much success, but we had some luck.
“We have six points and we have already qualified [for the knockout stages]. The final game remains critical, but it’s a very good thing.
“We had to take the advantage and make ourselves safe.”
Deschamps left Griezmann and fellow midfielder Paul Pogba on the bench for the game, but was quick to give credit to their respective performances as second-half subsitutes.
He also recognised Albania’s achievement in pushing his side all the way, saying: “For now, we cannot say that the big teams have dominated this tournament. Albanians play in good clubs too.
“We did the right thing in the second half and the players who came on made the difference. This is very important because it was the case against Romania.”