France booked their place at the 2021 UEFA Nations League finals on Saturday night after edging past reining champions Portugal in Lisbon.
Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante gave the visitors the lead just after the break as he stabbed home from Rui Patricio’s parry. The hosts pushed hard for an equaliser but weren’t quite able to find one as they miss out on a chance to defend their title.
Here are three things we learned from the match:
Unlikely source opens the scoring
Deployed in a midfield three alongside Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot, one may not have expected Kante to push forward all that much throughout the game. Instead, he would play his usual role of winning the ball back from deep and driving forwards.
That was not how France boss Didier Deschamps elected the utilise the midfielder though. Slightly ahead of his two teammates, Kante was often the one breaking forwards into the box in a role that was similar to that he was asked to play for former Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri a couple of seasons ago.
Whilst the Italian was criticised for that tactic in his time at Stamford Bridge, it is one that certainly paid off for Deschamps, with Kante opening the scoring from close range by stabbing home from Patricio’s save. Had he not been in that advanced position, he certainly would not have been afforded the opportunity to net only his second international goal.
Patricio the star for Portugal
Despite the mistake that saw France open the scoring and indeed claim the win, no player is worthy of more praise than Patricio in the Portuguese team. The Wolves stopper, who has now been capped 91 times for his nation, produced a string of highly impressive saves throughout the match to keep the reining world champions at bay.
Particularly in the first-half, the 32-year-old was Portugal’s star man, ensuring that the visitors were unable to take the lead earlier, repeatedly denying Anthony Martial. One mistake really should not impact on what was an eye-catching showing from Patricio.
Nations League holders defence impossible
With this defeat, Portugal’s chance of defending the title that they won in 2019 has evaporated. France have moved three points clear of Saturday’s opponents and regardless of what happens on the final matchday, Les Blues are set to top the group, with Portugal in second.
Despite an extremely strong campaign with just one defeat thus far, Portugal’s elimination will boil down to this match in particular, which will be a huge disappointment considering it was a home game and only their second loss since the 2018 World Cup.
Now guaranteed to finish second in the group, Fernando Santos’ men do not have a ticket to the finals next year, leading to them conceding their title.
Portugal: Patricio (7); Guerreiro (6), Dias (7), Fonte (6), Cancelo (6); Pereira (6) (Oliveira (N/A), 85′), Carvalho (6) (Jota (6), 56′), Fernandes (6) (Moutinho (5), 71′), Silva (7) (Trincao (5), 72′), Joao Felix (7) (Paulinho (N/A), 85′), Ronaldo (6).
France: Lloris (7); Hernandez (7), Kimpembe (6), Varane (7), Pavard (6); Kante (7), Rabiot (6), Pogba (7); Griezmann (7), Martial (7) (Giroud (N/A), 78′), Coman (7) (Thuram (6), 59′).
Goals: Kante (53′), Lloris (62′), Kante (79′), Hernandez (82′)
Referee: Tobias Stieler
Yellow Cards: Pereira (31′)
Red Cards: N/A
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