Goals from Clarisse Le Bihan, Kheira Hamraoui, Eugénie Le Sommer and Marie-Laure Delie ensured France finished their Euro 2017 qualifying on a high, long after having qualified as it was more of the same misery for Albania.
Dead rubber, but plenty of spice
The last game of Euro 2017 was dead rubber in Paris, Les Bleues already having qualified and their opposition already having long been eliminated. In just his second match in charge Olivier Echouafni was still very much in the assessment phase, younger players drafted in, not an inch given, his side going for the jugular.
The host, unsurprisingly, started out on top, pressing the opposition’s back line early in the game. Even with Kenza Dali subbed off fifteen minutes in and the younger Kadidiatou Diani on as her replacement, the youthful side seemed unmoved and soon took the lead. Élise Bussaglia’s corner was well whipped into the mix and after Diani struck the woodwork from close range the ball made its’ way out to Clarisse Le Bihan who volleyed hard and low into the far corner to open the scoring.
Les Bleues quickly doubled their advantage, Bussaglia’s corner delivery the catalyst once more as Kheira Hamraoui’s looping header completely caught Marigona Zani out. But the onslaught didn’t stop, the hosts flocking forward at every opportunity, blue shirts flooding the away box. Le Bihan cannoned the woodwork before Eugénie Le Sommer cast her shot just wide of the target and then Sandie Toletti powered the ball against the upright at another Bussaglia corner.
The captain was once again trying to add to her tally of assists as she flashed the ball across the face of goal only to see Le Sommer fail to connect before Zani grabbed the dangerous ball. Utilising every outfielder, the hosts were ruthless,ing forward using the full width of the pitch, Aissatou Tounkara and Sakina Karchaoui enjoying the freedom afforded with playing a team ranked 76 in the world.
After a sublime give and go with Toletti, Le Sommer added a third on the stroke of half-time. Working the ball through a crowded midfield with one-touch passes, Le Sommer received the ball as she broke into the box. With Zani coming out to reduce the angle, the Lyon striker was nonplussed and clinically put the ball past the advancing keeper and into the far corner.
Second-half, same story
France started the second-half as they had the first, immediately pushing the opposition back, taking shots for fun but unable to find the target to even trouble Zani. Despite still lacking that killer edge, Les Bleues continued to play around the opposition, finding space and leaving the defence in knots.
With the hosts winning yet another corner it was of little surprise when they were wheeling away in celebration afterwards. Toletti’s ball in dropped perfectly Hamraoui, the midfielder watched the ball every inch of the way, volleying past the closing defence and into the top corner. Marigona Zani left speechless and helpless, forced to once more pick the ball out from her goal.
But the onslaught didn’t stop there, after Lavdije Begolli was adjudged to have handled in the area – though replays show the ball came off a combination of her head and the top of the shoulder. Le Sommer stepped up and sent the ball to her left, and despite Zani guessing correctly and getting two good hands to the ball it shot directly up and hit the crossbar full in the fact to rebound behind the forlorn goalkeeper.
With the introduction of Gaëtane Thiney the job only got harder for Albania who were once again torn apart by the varied and constant attacks from the hosts. Zani coming up trumps to push Thiney’s fierce drive clear.
Block after block, the Albanian players began to throw themselves in front of everything in the box, the ball left to ping around before another white shirt dived in front of the wily ball. Down but not out, the visitors contused to throw everything at the ball to provide cover for Zani who was repaying her side with a flurry of saves.
The game wore on and the visitors were visibly tiring, when substitute Marie-Laure Delie raced between the centre backs and pounced on a poor back-pass, nothing was going to stop her from burying her effort. France’s finishing either wayward on perfectly into the corners, Delie’s shot was the latter to make it six nil.
When Karchaoui went down in the box after (arguably) little contact from Endrina Elezaj, Elvira Nurmustafina had no hesitation in awarding the hosts their second penalty of the night. With Le Sommer off, penalty duty fell to Thiney. With little to no pressure on her shoulders, the Juvisy attacker could only roll her spot-kick wide of the mark. After the temporary let off, Zani’s goal was back under threat but the young keeper stood up well to save Delie’s close-range header.
Even with the game long over, the hosts refused to relent, Hamraoui going for her hat trick in stoppage time, her thunderbolt too much for the keeper but slamming into the bar before bouncing into the six yard box. Delie’s close-range follow up, well saved by Zani.
With a total of 41 shots during the match, France only managed to put 14 on target, a lack of finish still hindering a side who could be the best in the world.