Football Features

Awkward Antoine and Anthem Anarchy – winners and losers from France 4-1 Albania

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:02, 7 September 2019

In a delightful celebration of football, World Champions France thrashed Albania 4-1.

The victory moves France top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Kingsley Coman

France have something of a monopoly on world-breaking wingers whose ligaments and muscles are made of wet cardboard. Ousmane Dembélé and Kingsley Coman should be lighting up world football like Kylian Mbappé but neither can stay fit. Well even Mbappé is injured now, as is Dembélé. Kingsley Coman, however, was fit and started (wearing Dembélé’s no. 11 shirt).

And, well, this was one hell of a way to remind everyone just how good you are. Kingsley Coman was an absolute dynamo against Albania. With Kylian Mbappé out there was a lot of emphasis on Coman to provide the pace and thrust for the side and he did just that from start to finish. Coman ran Albania ragged with his direct dribbling, bamboozling defenders on more than one occasion with body feints and stepovers, He was simply electric with his wing play and the way he moved off the ball.

Then you get to the goals! Coman opened the scoring racing onto a superb long pass from Raphael Varane, he destroyed the Albanian back-line with his movement and finished calmly with his left-foot when bearing down on goal. Then later in the second half when Antoine Griezmann fizzed a low cross across the six yard box, Coman controlled with his back to goal, spun around and lashed home his second. Two goals, plenty of great dribbles and most importantly no injuries! If Kingsley Coman stays fit France’s chances of winning Euro 2020 will increase dramatically.

Loser: Antoine Griezmann’s finishing

It should be clarified that Antoine Griezmann was excellent for France against Albania. Absent two of his main attacking team-mates, Griezmann shouldered much of the burden for orienting and driving the France attack. And he did just that from start to finish, moving all around the pitch to always be involved, helping to create overloads and find killer passes. Griezmann’s delicious volleyed pass helped create the second goal for Olivier Giroud and it was his wonderful low cross that directly set-up the third.

But his finishing was just terrible. In a game where Olivier Giroud scored his 36th goal for France, taking himself that much closer to passing Michel Platini and becoming France’s second best goalscorer of all-time; Griezmann blew two great opportunities to bag his 30th and tie-up Jean-Pierré Papín and Just Fontaine.

First, he had a penalty. With 10 minutes left in the first half Lucas Hernández was fouled, so Griezmann stepped up and prepared to add France’s third. Except he hit the ball so hard he thundered it off the crossbar and out. Then later in the second half Griezmann was on the end of a delicious France attack but his brilliantly placed shot through the legs of Albanian goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha was swept away at the last second by Strakosha’s left leg. The save was so good that Griezmann even applauded the Albanian! And even though France were victorious and Griezmann’s overall game was great, the Barcelona man will surely leave the Stade de France frustrated.

Winner: Jonathan Ikone

Nicolas Pépé joined Arsenal this summer for a massive £72m from Lille, and many people wondered how Les Dogues were going to replace the man who scored 23 goals for them in 2018/19. Well they didn’t spend anything, but instead they’ve turned to 21-year-old Jonathan Ikone, who they signed a year ago in 2018.

Ikone has started well, earning himself a spot in the France squad. Today he came off the bench with the score at 3-0 and set the pitch alight on his debut. Ikone seemed determined to score with his confident direct play. His first big involvement saw him going on a good 20-30 yard run into the box from an Antoine Griezmann pass only to overrun the ball. Later he pulled off a superb one-two with Nabil Fekir, powered his way into the box and finished smartly. A goal on debut and a huge home victory! What more could you ask for at 21-years-old?

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Loser: Stade de France’s technical staff

One would imagine that there’s a lot of pressure on technical staff before a big international fixture. That said, with modern technology being as advanced as it is it has also become easier than ever to do things like manage lights, direct the TV broadcast and operate the PA system.

Although perhaps not on the evidence of France vs. Albania, where the game kicked off later than the other qualifiers because the Albanians refused to kick-off at the normal time. And why? Because the technical staff at the Stade de France had played the incorrect national anthem for Albania during the pre-game line-ups.

The proud Albanians stood dumbfounded as the Andorran national anthem played and quite rightly refused to play until their anthem was played. They had to wait, and wait, and wait – but eventually they got there and sung their hearts out. But that was an absolutely ridiculous situation for an international powerhouse like France to find themselves in. Hey, technical guys in the Stade de France, Albania and Andorra are not the same, not even a little bit.

Winner: Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich are the greatest German club side in history, but their current squad has a decidedly French feeling to it with no less than four players in it from the World Cup winners. Today against Albania we saw all four of those Frenchman start and play well too in a display that must have pleased the Bayern bosses.

Obviously Kingsley Coman was brilliant, and then at full-back was the pair of defenders that Bayern spent over €100m to acquire this summer. Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernández were solid as ever at full-back, protecting their defence and helping out in attack with some tasty crosses. Lucas even assisted France’s second goal was a delightful low cross.

Then in midfield it was Corentin Tolisso, the former Lyon midfielder who missed most of last season having ruptured his cruciate ligaments. It was a horrible injury and seeing Tolisso back in France blue was a heartwarming sight, although the Albanians probably didn’t think so as Tolisso ran the show from the middle of the park – looking comfortable as ever and making sure that France didn’t miss the talismanic Paul Pogba. No small feat, but one that will have the Bayern Munich bosses salivating as they gear up for another assault on the Bundesliga and Champions League.

Winner: Didier Deschamps

Deschamps is often a frustrating figure as a coach. He is almost comedically defensive and even though he won the World Cup he made real hard work of it when, even with the players he had picked for his squad, France could have won every game bar Australia and Uruguay by a minimum of three goals.

Still, they won, and fair enough. But they needed to evolve if they were to have any hope of winning Euro 2020, and against Albania they showed a fluency and maturity that we hadn’t seen since their Russian peak. Deschamps sent the team out in a 4-4-1-1 formation and even though star men Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappé and N’Golo Kanté were absent France played like, well, France.

They were calm, composed, they passed the ball superbly and pulled Albania apart at the seams without ever really looking like they were going to concede. They didn’t miss Pogba’s creativity nor Kanté’s energy and most impressively they never looked like they were struggling to score without Mbappé (albeit of course he would have helped).

The side is maturing and evolving beyond a pure defensive system that relied on the individual brilliance of Pogba, Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann to function in attack (although today saw plenty of brilliance from Griezmann). There is a structure of play developing, and when you plug the likes of Pogba, Mbappé and even injury merchants Ousmane Dembélé and Benjamin Mendy into it then the scary prospect is that with Didier Deschamps as the coach the World Champions might be about to get better.