Nothing polished about France, says Gary Lim
After two late escapes, Deschamps needs to find winning formula fast
(Antoine Griezmann 90, Dimitri Payet 90+6)
Once more, France snatched victory at the death.
At the Stade Velodrome yesterday morning (Singapore time), the bulk of the 63,670 spectators rejoiced at the final whistle, after their side clinched a last-gasp 2-0 victory over Albania to continue their charge towards the gleaming Henri Delaunay Trophy.
Yet, there was nothing polished about the French display.
Not yesterday morning, not in their opening 2-1 over Romania last Friday either.
The late drama might have made for excellent entertainment, but did little to support their reputation as pre-tournament favourites.
The hosts have stumbled onto a winning path without discovering the winning formula.
Coach Didier Deschamps has guided his team to back-to-back victories without knowing his winning team.
Two matches into Euro 2016, their passage to the Round of 16 has been secured, but their destiny with European triumph looks precarious.
Twice in a row, they had to slog for the three points.
The laboured win over Romania in the opening game, courtesy of a Dimitri Payet 89th-minute winner, cannot be put down to a bad day in the office now.
Yesterday morning, it took an Antoine Griezmann goal on the stroke of full-time and another by Payet in the 96th minute to wrap up a game in which minnows Albania look decidedly the better team in the first half.
Deschamps' team selections betrayed an uncertainty to the gameplan.
His decision to drop Griezmann and Paul Pogba for the Albania clash required courage - both are star names who were ineffective against Romania.
The coach insisted that his decision was purely for tactical reasons.
Instead, Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial were handed their first Euro 2016 starts.
But, to see the marked improvement in the team's play after Pogba (46th minute) and Griezmann (68th minute) came on as substitutes yesterday morning injected into the atmosphere a sense of confusion that genuine title contenders should always do without.
Until the introduction of the duo, France were devoid of flair and invention, easily thwarted by Albania's superbly organised defence and also frequently troubled by their speedy and purposeful counter-attacks.
For the majority of the match, the home crowd had to put up with a side brittle at the back and blunt at the top.
Olivier Giroud's inability to convert the many chances that came his way must be worrying.
So was the central defence partnership of Adil Rami and Laurent Koscielny, which looked susceptible to mistakes when under pressure.
One of the few positives Deschamps can draw from their campaign so far is the team's determination to fight till the bitter end.
Speaking after yesterday morning's win, captain Hugo Lloris said: "This demonstrates once again that the game is played in the head.
"We have to believe until the end..."
But, one day, when their luck runs out, France will be found out.
Bigger teams await in the knock-out stages.
The need for improvement is urgent.
Unless Deschamps finds his winning team and a winning formula fast, they won't stand a chance.
- Switzerland v France
- Romania v Albania