MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Dimitri Payet scored yet another impressive goal as France left it late once again, overcoming a spirited Albania 2-0 to become the first team to advance to the knockout stages of the European Championship on Wednesday.

It’s becoming quite a theme: early nerves, laborious first halves, chances spurned and rising star Payet popping up with a spectacular late goal.

“It’s true that I managed to make the difference again,” Payet said. “Things went well again for me tonight.”

This time, his strike deep into injury time did not win the game like his last-minute goal in Friday’s 2-1 win against Romania did as forward Antoine Griezmann had already headed his team ahead in the 90th.

“I would prefer us to break the deadlock a little earlier,” France coach Didier Deschamps said.

Leaving it late is not ideal — certainly not for frayed French nerves, including those of French President Francois Hollande, who jumped out of his seat and thrust his arms in the air when Griezmann scored. And the Stade Velodrome rose as one to hail Payet after another outstanding finish a few minutes later.

With grace and poise reminiscent of France great Zinedine Zidane, Payet cut in from the left and beat two players before firing in the second goal.

He was France’s creative force and is fast forging a reputation as both a supplier of chances and a finisher of lethal quality.

“He’s always had ability,” Deschamps said. “He’s got a lot of confidence.”

It was cruel on Albania, which nearly took the lead early in the second half when right back Elseid Hysaj drove in a powerful cross that France defender Bacary Sagna turned onto the post while under pressure from midfielder Ledian Memushaj.

The ball flicked back off the post onto Memushaj’s head and rolled wide.

It was a reprieve for a complacent France side that was jeered off the field at halftime, the team’s supporters doubtless hoping for an easy ride against a team most observers had written off as defensive workhorses.

Confounding that generalization about weaker sides, Albania clearly came to play and made France sweat — especially left back Patrice Evra, who was tormented all night by Hysaj.

“We didn’t just defend,” Albania coach Giovanni De Biasi said. “We had good chances.”

Midway through the first half, Hysaj got forward and his deflected cross just eluded the outstretched boot of center forward Armando Sadiku.

Just as against Romania, when he also set up Olivier Giroud’s opening goal, Payet provided France’s forward momentum and his goal bore a fitting resemblance to Zidane’s goal against Spain in the last 16 of their 2006 World Cup match.

At 29 years old, Payet is a revelation in international football, galvanized by a successful season for Premier League side West Ham where he scored several highlight-reel free kicks.

His dangerous passes and crosses deserved far better finishing — with Giroud heading over early on and winger Anthony Martial fluffing his chance midway through the first half. The introduction of midfielder Paul Pogba at halftime had a dynamic effect, and he went close with a rasping drive — with Payet again the supplier — just moments after Albania had struck the post in the 51st minute.

France spurned chances all night and, until Griezmann’s header, it seemed the famed local Mistral wind blowing around the stadium was guiding the ball away from the net.

Giroud, who had wasted two free headers against Romania, missed another two in the second half.

First he headed winger Kingsley Coman’s cross wide and his downward header from Evra’s cross pinged back off the base of the post.

Giroud held his head in his hands, but after eight goals in his past eight games, he should have scored.

When his Arsenal teammate Laurent Koscielny missed with another header, France began to panic.

But Deschamps has a cool head as well as a keen sense as to when to make substitutions.

He got the switches right against Romania when he brought on Martial and Coman as wingers.

This time, Deschamps threw away his cautious cards away, pushed his chips on the table and went all-out for the win.

On came Griezmann and striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, who headed wide.

It seemed like a goal would never come until Rami found the touch of a winger to pick out Griezmann, whose angled header eluded goalkeeper Etrit Berisha’s reach.

With the pressure off, it was Payet’s time to show his quality, raising the roof with his quick feet and a rasping shot deep into injury time.

In six games since being recalled to the France side in late March, he has scored four, created three and been involved in two more.

Now the word is out, he should expect to be a marked man from now on.

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