France beats Portugal, beats place in the Nations League final

N’Golo Kante only scored his second international goal when World Cup winners France defeated European champions Portugal 1-0 in Lisbon on Saturday to secure a place in the Nations League final.

Chelsea midfielder Kante was quickest to react to a rebound when he knocked out the winner in 54 minutes, which put France’s top spot in Group 3 ahead of the final round.

France leads Portugal by three points before Tuesday’s clash with Sweden in Paris but is guaranteed first place due to its superior head-to-head record.

Didier Deschamp’s side became the first team to advance to the final, which UEFA has entered for October next year. Portugal won the opening edition at home in 2019.

With victory for both countries enough to win the group, Deschamps made two changes to the team that made 0-0 with Portugal at the Stade de France last month.

Kingsley Coman replaced the injured Kylian Mbappe in attack, as Anthony Martial was preferred to Olivier Giroud, France’s second leading scorer. Paul Pogba was the only starter to start the 2-0 friendly match against Finland in the middle of the week.

Jose Fonte replaced the very experienced Pepe, lined with a foot problem, in a Portugal defense that had not conceded a goal in five games.

Coman forced Rui Patricio to tip over a hard strike when France made a bright start at the Estadio da Luz, with Martial denied by the legs of the Portuguese goalkeeper after a nice ball through from Antoine Griezmann.

Martial’s only previous goal for France came four years ago, but the Manchester United striker was a constant threat to a Portugal side undefeated in 21 games at home.

Adrien Rabiot nodded wide from a corner and then accidentally set up Martial on a free kick when a nod from the latter hit the crossbar.

Martial ran to reach a dangerous Lucas Hernandez cross but was countered by a fantastic Patricio block before Cristiano Ronaldo forced a header narrowly over the half-time strike.

An inspired Patricio kept France in check until he failed to handle Rabiot’s low angled strike early in the second half and pushed it straight against Kante who forced home from inside the six-yard box.

Pogba fluffed a nod from an accurate Rabiot delivery when France searched for a second and Martial was again frustrated by Patricio when he hit the ball towards goal from a Hernandez pass.

Portugal almost leveled when Hugo Lloris could only parry a speculative attempt from Raphael Guerreiro, Fonte on his way to the post as the hosts kept the attack alive.

The French captain then produced an excellent stop to hold out a long-term attempt from Joao Moutinho as the visitors managed to absorb late pressure to beat their ticket to next year’s final.

(AFP)