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Anthony Martial missed three clear first-half chances for France before Kante scored just his second international goal in the 54th minute, and his first since 2016, to end Portugal’s streak of five successive clean sheets.
World champion France took the lead in Group A3 with 13 points in five matches, three ahead of Portugal and with the best head-to-head record to give them an unassailable lead. It was only Portugal’s second defeat since the 2018 World Cup.
“Considering the quality of the opposition, this is of course one of our best performances of recent times,” France coach Didier Deschamps said of European champion Portugal.
“We deserved the win and we achieved our goal of finishing first. I am very proud of the players. They proved tonight that France is still a great team. ”
Antoine Griezmann created Martial’s first chance in the 12th minute with a slide rule pass but excellent Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio blocked it at close range.
Martial then deflected Adrien Rabiot’s acrobatic effort onto the bar with his head and saw another effort brilliantly saved at close range by Patricio over Lucas Hernandez’s cross.
At the other end, Cristiano Ronaldo forced a diving save from France captain Hugo Lloris and also wasted a free kick he drove straight into the wall.
France finally broke through when Portugal seemed to win. Griezmann slipped another ball to Rabiot whose shot was parried by Patricio and Kante was there to score a rebound.
Portugal had three opportunities to beg in the same attack, including a Jose Fonte header against the post, and Lloris made a one-handed save to parry a failed drive from Joao Moutinho, who then saw his cross slip away. three attackers while France held out.
“I don’t know what went wrong in the first half, it wasn’t what I expected but it was my responsibility,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
“We were better in the second half, but then we conceded the goal that settled the game… we had three or four chances to tie. “