Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté scored the only goal in a relentless victory for France at Estádio da Luz. France’s victory puts them in first place in Group 3 to advance to the round of 16 of the UEFA Nations League.
Portugal’s loss – their first ever in the competition – means they won’t be able to keep the trophy.
Fernando Santos’ side faced a completely different class of opposition after Portugal’s 7-0 victory over Andorra in midweek. La Seleção fielded a deeply changed squad, as European champions faced world champions France. These two teams met last month with a 0-0 draw at the Stade de France. Both teams came on the same points and to qualify for the Nations League knockout round Portugal needed a draw or a win, while France needed a win. or a draw.
France were without injured Kylian Mbappé – good news for Rúben Dias and José Fonte – starting with a first three from Kingsley Coman, Anthony Martial and Antoine Griezmann. For Portugal, Renato Sanches and Domingos Duarte missed the matchday squad, Santos ahead of three ahead of Bernardo Silva, João Félix and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It was the visitors who got the first real chance of the game when Griezmann played against Anthony Martial, but Rui Patrício quickly left his line to turn down the Manchester United striker. France came close again on the half hour, a well-worked free kick from Griezmann found its way to Martial to head towards the bar up close. Rui Patrício again turned down Anthony Martial just before the break. France worked the ball well, with Lucas Hernández in a lot of space on the left. The center-back found Martial whose point-blank shot was well stopped by the Wolves keeper.
Although France had the majority of chances in the first half, Portugal came close to entering the break with a goal, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s header from a corner came just over Hugo Lloris’ goal.
Although Portugal had a brilliant start to the second half, it was France that took the lead. Adrien Rabiot found space to shoot in the area. Patrício managed to block the shot but his save found N’Golo Kanté to finish and put the visitors in the lead. Portugal almost equalized a few minutes later. A long-range effort from Raphaël Guerreiro was well saved by Hugo Lloris and on the rebound the effort from José Fonte crashed from the post.
Fernando Santos made changes to his squad with Diogo Jota, João Moutinho and Francisco Trincão as Portugal looked to equalize. Indeed, Moutinho got closer to an effort just outside the area which forced a nice acrobatic stop from Hugo Lloris. Although Portugal improved after the substitutions, they were unable to apply much pressure, allowing France to see the remaining minutes quite comfortably.
It was a fairly consistent game indeed, but it was France’s dominance in midfield – with Kanté at its heart – that gave them the victory. Portugal could not unlock the space for the attack to be created. Portugal will then play against Croatia, defeated by Sweden tonight, in a dead rubber match that may give Fernando Santos the chance to experiment with his squad again.
by Richard Cole
Portugal XI: Rui Patrício; João Cancelo, Rúben Dias, José Fonte, Raphaël Guerreiro; Danilo Pereira (Sérgio Oliveira, 84 ‘), William Carvalho (Diogo Jota, 56’), Bruno Fernandes (João Moutinho, 71 ‘); Bernardo Silva (Francisco Trincão, 71 ‘), Cristiano Ronaldo, João Félix (Paulinho, 84’)
France XI: Hugo Lloris; Benjamin Pavard, Presnel Kimpembe, Raphael Varane, Lucas Hernández; N’Golo Kanté, Adrien Rabiot, Paul Pogba; Kingsley Coman (Marcus Thuram, 59 ‘), Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial (Olivier Giroud, 79’)
[0-1] N’Golo Kanté, 53 ‘