MARSEILLE: Two matches, two defeats, no goals.
Those are Albania's sobering statistics at the European Championship after its 2-0 loss to France at Stade Velodrome on Wednesday. But they don't quite tell the full story of the team's first foray in a major competition.
Few teams have entered a European Championship with less pedigree, but like other another minnow at Euro 2016 — Iceland — Albania has proved hard to crack.
France, its players prominent at many of Europe's top teams, took until the 90th minute to break through the Albanian defensive wall when Antoine Griezmann broke the deadlock with a fine headed goal. Deep in stoppage time, Dimitri Payet added a second when Albania left gaps at the back when striving for an equalizer.
Albania's Italian coach, Giovanni De Biasi, has instilled many of the footballing virtues of his native country into his team. There was no surprise then that he expressed pride in his players after their first two matches — the late capitulation to France was preceded by a narrow 1-0 loss to Switzerland even after Albania was reduced to ten men.
"We played," he said. "We're a proper team — we play good football."
Albania did not just defend in numbers. The team pushed France hard throughout the first half and nearly took the lead shortly after the break when a dangerous cross by Elseid Hysaj deflected off Bacary Sagna and hit the post.
"My team resisted right until the end, but we didn't just defend throughout the match," De Biasi said.
It was a similar story in the team's first match. Albania troubled the Swiss through much of that match, despite the sending off of inspirational captain Lorik Cana for a second yellow card.
Even without Cana's steadying influence, Albania posed problems for France, with Napoli wingback Hysaj sending in a series of dangerous crosses from the right and causing Patrice Evra constant problems.
De Biasi said the smaller teams at the tournament are relying on tight organization and commitment. And you only need to look to the English champions to see how far that can take a team.
"Football is becoming a lot more tactical. If you come from the English Premier League, you have the example of Leicester City and what they achieved this year," he said. "Nobody would have predicted that."
Albania is not the only team using that recipe to stretch higher-ranked opponents in France. Iceland notably came from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.
France coach Didier Deschamps said he was impressed by Albania's commitment.
"Albania played with a lot of heart, a lot of spirit," he said. "They defend well they have the ability to counter very fast."
De Biasi said he has not given up hope that his team can still reach the knockout stage if it can beat Romania Sunday night in Lyon at the same time France meets Switzerland in Lille. The new 24-team format also means the third-place teams in the six groups have a good chance to reach the round of 16.