LOSC Lille's Jonathan Ikoné scored on his senior international debut to help France to a 4-1 win over Albania on Saturday and keep the FIFA World Cup winners among the frontrunners in UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying Group H.
Saturday, 7 September, 2019
Euro 2020 qualifying Group H, Matchday 5
Stade de France, Paris
France 4 - 1 Albania
Les Bleus face Andorra at home next week, and it was the Pyreneean nation's anthem that rang round the Stade de France instead of the Albanian one before kick-off, causing red faces from the hosts and a degree of anger from the visitors.
After the appropriate apologies had been made and the right anthem played, France, however, did not show much generosity to their opponents.
With Kylian Mbappé sidelined by injury, Albania might have hoped for a more comfortable evening, but just eight minutes in, they fell behind — Kingsley Coman raced onto a superb Raphaël Varane through ball to beat Thomas Strakosha with confidence (8').
It was the Bayern Munich man's second goal for his country; Olivier Giroud had 35 before kick-off, and the Chelsea forward added another to his tally — in his 92nd appearance — when he applied the finishing touch to Lucas Hernandez's cross (27').
France were totally in control, and should have had a third before half-time.
Mergim Mavraj curtailed Hernandez's powerful burst forward by upending the Bayern man in the penalty area — Antoine Griezmann, who had scored his previous seven penalties for his country, sent his spot-kick spinning into the Parisian air off Strakosha's crossbar (37').
Coman on strong
The Barcelona man might have made amends ten minutes after the interval. His ball for Thomas Lemar was then turned into Giroud who teed it up for Griezmann — Strakosha was able to block his fierce strike with his legs (55').
Didier Deschamps' men had scored two times or more in 28 of their previous 35 outings, and Coman ensured they finally added to the scoreline. Griezmann and Hernandez — former teammates at Atletico Madrid — linked up well down the left, and after the latter lost control of the ball inside the box, it ran to his new club teammate at Bayern, and Coman swivelled before firing home from close range.
The ex-Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus man, who had made a good start to the Bundesliga season, became the first France player to score twice in a EURO qualifier since Thierry Henry against Lithuania in October, 2007.
Coman was replaced by Ikoné with 13 minutes to go, and just eight minutes later, the debutant had a goal. After playing a one-two with another substitute, Nabil Fekir, Ikoné measured a shot beyond Strakosha — it was not only his first senior international strike, but also the opener of his 2019-20 account.
France could not keep a clean sheet, however. Sokol Cikalleshi was played in behind the home back four and collided with the onrushing Hugo Lloris. The France captain appeared to have pulled his hands away at the last moment, but a penalty was awarded — Lloris was powerless to prevent Cikalleshi from giving Albania some consolation to slightly tarnish France's win.
THE PLAYER: Kingsley Coman
The winger has been in exceptional form for Bayern since the start of the season, and carried that into the international arena. If he can maintain it, he will be one of the first names on the teamsheet for both club and country.
THE STAT: 32
None of France's last 32 internationals at the Stade de France have ended in a draw. France have won 24 of those matches.