Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 6 December 2020

Nations League: Chelsea's N'Golo Kante scores winner to send France through to semi-finals

Didier Deschamps' side knock out holders Portugal by ending their 21-match unbeaten home run

France handed defending Nations League champions Portugal a rare defeat on Saturday, winning 1-0 in Lisbon with N'Golo Kante's second-half strike to reach the competition's final four at the expense of the holders.

Kante scored only his second France goal in the 54th minute to leave them top of the group and uncatchable.

France should have been ahead by half-time but Anthony Martial missed three chances, two saved by Rui Patricio and one hitting the crossbar.

Jose Fonte hit the post as Portugal pressed for an equaliser in the second half.

Didier Deschamps' side became the first team to advance to the finals, which Uefa has pencilled in for October next year. Portugal won the inaugural edition on home soil in 2019 but now won’t be able to defend it.

Deschamps made two changes to the team that drew 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 all-time second leading scorer. Paul Pogba was the only starter to begin the 2-0 friendly loss to Finland in midweek.

Jose Fonte replaced the vastly experienced Pepe, sidelined by a foot problem, in a Portugal defence that had not conceded a goal in five matches.

Coman forced Rui Patricio to tip over a firm strike as France made a bright start at the Estadio da Luz, with Martial denied by the legs of the Portugal goalkeeper after a neat 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 against a Portugal side unbeaten in 21 matches at home.

Adrien Rabiot nodded wide from a corner and then inadvertently set up Martial at a free-kick when a header from the latter smacked against the crossbar.

Martial then lunged to reach a dangerous Lucas Hernandez cross but was thwarted by a terrific Patricio block before Cristiano Ronaldo powered a header narrowly over on the stroke of half-time.

An inspired Patricio kept France at bay until he was unable to deal properly with Rabiot's low, angled strike early in the second half, pushing it straight to Kante who forced home from inside the six-yard box.

Pogba fluffed a header from a pinpoint Rabiot delivery as France sought a second and Martial was again frustrated by Patricio as he flicked the ball towards goal from a Hernandez pass.

Portugal nearly levelled when Hugo Lloris could only parry a speculative attempt from Raphael Guerreiro, Fonte heading against the post as the hosts kept the attack alive.

The France captain then produced an excellent stop to keep out a long-range effort from Joao Moutinho as the visitors successfully absorbed late pressure to punch their ticket to next year's finals.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany beat Ukraine 3-1 and Spain drew 1-1 with Switzerland.

Updated: November 15, 2020 06:00 PM

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