France top Group A after dour Switzerland draw

Swiss qualify for last-16 in second place after both sides fail to break deadlock in Lille

Switzerland 0 France 1

France finished top of Group A, not quite at a gallop but convincingly enough after an initially boisterous, ultimately rather slow-burn draw with Switzerland in Lille. The Swiss are also through and showed some real muscle either side of half-time after Paul Pogba had looked like making this game all his own in a brief but thrilling burst of all-round midfield power-play. Another clean sheet bodes well for Dider Deschamps' new-look defence. France were rarely stretched at the back here but by the end, with the second half of this two-part Euros now about to thrum into life, the suspicion remains there is still some clicking into place to be done for that hugely talented chop-and-change midfield.

Before kick-off this felt like a low-pressure final group game for France, with a mild celebratory purr around the stadium as the hosts emerged. Lille is lodged up in the northeastern shoulder of France, an orderly place and a nice neat stadium, but a notch down from the heat of Marseille and the Stade de France.

"Lâcher les freins!" was the match-day headline in L'Equipe, urging Deschamps to take off the brakes and allow this team of midfield multi-talents to rev up through the gears. Deschamps made five changes, all in the front six, with Antoine Griezmann, André-Pierre Gignac, Paul Pogba, Moussa Sissoko and Johan Cabaye coming into a 4-3-2-1 formation.


Early on France zipped the ball about well enough, although it was Switzerland who had the first real chance when Pogba almost flailed the ball into his own net from a corner, only for Johann Djourou to deflect the ball away from France's goal line. At which point Pogba pulled himself up to his full height and took the opening quarter of this game by the scruff.

First he started and finished a fine move, winning the ball deep in his half, taking it back from Gignac's fine twist and then curling in a shot that Yann Sommer palmed over. Moments later Pogba danced and jiggled his way across the box and spanked a hard low drive with the outside of his foot, only for Sommer to save again, a high-class moment of skill.

Pogba was bullying Switzerland. Roving in from the left he drove forward and shot with thrilling power, wobbling the crossbar. Next came a whipped cross that narrowly evaded the eager Gignac. “Pogba,” the Lille crowd chanted, buzzing every time he got the ball.

For Switzerland this was a chance to seal qualification in second place from Group A and also to shake off a little gathered rust. Breel Embolo came in at centre-forward but he spent most of the opening half-hour defending as France surged on both flanks, winning a series of corners. Steadily though Switzerland began to creep back into the game, with Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami getting closer to Pogba and Xherdan Shaqiri tracking back furiously. Coman, nippy and incisive on both flanks, was repeatedly fouled.

Pogba began to slip a little, a combination perhaps of the poor, multi-use pitch (Rihanna is the next headliner here a month from now) and some recent problems with not having – seriously – the right boots. By half-time, with the scores level for all their pressure, France had decelerated a little after that thrilling Pogba-led burst.

Xhaka had been the man to lead the Swiss, knuckling down, passing carefully and showing real strength in the clinches. If France lacked something between their thrusts it was perhaps a little easy dominance in the centre, with Cabaye unable to assert his passing rhythms.

Switzerland continued to squeeze. Embolo and Blerim Dzemaili ganged up on Pogba in the middle, robbing the ball as he thrashed like a lassoed tyrannosaur. On the flanks France’s three-man midfield offered space as Switzerland drove purposefully wide, but plenty of thrust as Sissoko drove across halfway and played in Gignac for a low shot. It was high-intensity stuff: one collision between Griezmann and Behrami was so intense the ball exploded.

Griezmann moved to the centre finally from the left and sprung past Xhaka on to a give-and-go, shooting powerfully but close to Sommer. And with just over and hour gone there was a huge cheer finally around the Pierre-Mauroy as Dmitri Payet appeared on the touchline to replace Kingsley Coman.

Payet slotted into the same left-sided channel, drifting inside as ever and with 75 minutes gone produced the moment of the half, almost of the group stage, as he met Sissoko’s cross on the run and spanked a wonderful leaping volley on to the underside of the bar. Sissoko had made a wonderful barrelling run to the corner. It would have been a sensational goal.

Payet had a chance with a free-kick to concoct another late-twist script, but to general bemusement thumped the ball into the wall. Deschamps will have a little to ponder after a performance that simply ran out of steam. The configuration of that narrow midfield looks a little off, with plenty of nice moments but no obvious pattern of how to tesselate best all the talent at his disposal. Gignac started well but saw little of the goal in the second half.France, though, have real strength in reserve.

(Guardian service)