France trips up Albania 2-1
France beat Albania 2-1 in a Euro 2012 qualifier Friday despite a shaky defensive performance to increase its lead atop Group D.
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France striker Karim Benzema opened the scoring with a low drive in the 11th minute and Yann M'Vila doubled the lead by firing home a diagonal shot in the 18th.
Albania forward Erjon Bogdani beat goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to pull one back in the 46th.
The hosts had spells of domination in the second half but France held on to its lead.
France tops Group D with 16 points, three clear of Bosnia-Herzegovina. European champion in 2000, France is undefeated in its last 12 matches and will visit Romania on Tuesday.
''I'm satisfied tonight,'' France coach Laurent Blanc told TF1 television. ''We came here to win, but we knew it would be complicated.''
''In spite of all the respect I have for Albania, we were superior to them in this match.''
France converted its first scoring chance after 10 minutes when Benzema cut inside to unleash from the edge of the box a low shot that Albania goalkeeper Saimir Ujkani could only palm into the bottom corner.
Albania nearly equalized the following minute, taking advantage of a nervy Younes Kaboul. The France centerback lost possession near his own area and Bogdani quickly fed winger Hamdi Salihi, whose chip hit the bar.
Kaboul then missed a header in the 16th, forcing Lloris to come off his line to beat Salihi to the ball.
France has mostly relied on the pair of centerbacks formed by Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami to anchor the defense in this qualifying campaign.
But AC Milan defender Mexes is recovering from a knee injury and was therefore not available while Valencia defender Rami was suspended for the match in Tirana, leaving Blanc with very little choice at centerback.
France overcame that minor scare by adding a second goal in the 18th. Rennes midfielder M'Vila released Benzema down the right flank. The Real Madrid forward skipped past Kristi Vangjeli to play the ball back to M'Vila, who netted with a shot from 16 yards.
That two-goal deficit however did not discourage the Albanians.
Albania midfielder Ansi Agolli chested down a poor clearance from the France defense to crack a half-volley that Lloris turned around the post in the 31st.
Benzema outpaced the Albania defense to be clean through on goal in the 36th but Admir Teli fouled him to earn a yellow card. Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery took the ensuing free kick that Ujkani tipped over the bar.
Albania put France under pressure at the start of the second half. Ervin Bulku made a long pass for Bogdani in the 46th. Eric Abidal and Kaboul beat the Albania forward to the ball, but some poor communication between the two France centerbacks helped Bogdani win the ball to slip the ball through the legs of Lloris.
''We conceded this goal that took away a bit of the confidence we had in the first half,'' Blanc said.
The France defense was again exposed in the 59th. Albania fullback Vangjeli charged down the left flank to cut the ball back for substitute Jahmir Hyka, whose close-range effort was blocked by Abidal. But Bulku pounced on the rebound to fire a powerful drive that Lloris punched away.
Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri had no influence on France's passing game and did very little until the 69th when he hit a low drive straight at Ujkani.
France pushed hard in the last minutes to add a third goal.
Ribery made a solo run in the 81st to pull the ball back for Chelsea winger Florent Malouda but Altin Lala rushed back to clear the ball. Kaboul outjumped the Albania defense from the ensuing corner but his header crashed against the post.
Manchester United leftback Patrice Evra then set up Nasri, whose effort from 13 yards bounced off the post in the 86th.
''Of course we can improve,'' Blanc said. ''We can always do better offensively. But we scored two goals, created a lot of chances and hit the post twice. Our offense is clicking better and we've managed to put our opponent in trouble.''
France: Hugo Lloris; Anthony Reveillere, Younes Kaboul, Eric Abidal, Patrice Evra; Yann M'Vila, Alou Diarra, Samir Nasri; Florent Malouda (Marvin Martin, 81), Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery.
Albania: Saimir Ujkani; Armend Dallku, Lorik Cana, Admir Teli, Kristi Vangjeli; Ervin Bulku (Elis Bakaj, 69), Debatik Curri (Altin Lala, 24), Ansi Agolli; Ervin Skela (Jahmir Hyka, 46), Erjon Bogdani, Hamdi Salihi.