N’Golo Kante impresses in France’s friendly win over Russia

France coach Didier Deschamps was delighted with N’Golo Kante’s performance on his first international start in Tuesday’s 4-2 friendly win against Russia.

The all-action Leicester City player has been one of the stars of the season in England and needed just eight minutes on his first start for his country to score the opening goal in an impressive French victory.

That followed his debut appearance as a substitute in last Friday’s 3-2 win in the Netherlands and leaves the former Caen player, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Tuesday, looking a certainty to make the France squad for Euro 2016.

“He is a little chap who is always smiling. The squad have done everything to help him settle in and he has shown no complexes out on the field,” said Deschamps after Tuesday’s game at the Stade de France.

“It is not easy on your first start but he did some very good things.

“It is interesting. It doesn’t mean those who didn’t play don’t have qualities, but he has carried on at international level what he has been doing with his club.”

Curiously, another of the stars of the season in England, West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet, also scored a goal on his birthday in the game against Russia, in his case coming off the bench to net a free-kick in the second half on the day he turned 29.

“It is a beautiful birthday present,” said Payet.

“The free-kick was my first touch. I don’t know if I scored points tonight. I just try to perform as well as possible.

“If I don’t go to the Euros of course I will be disappointed, like any player.”

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The impact of these two players underlined the options available to Deschamps as he ponders his squad for the European Championship on home soil in June and July.

Andre-Pierre Gignac, now playing his club football in Mexico, also scored as he showed that he is a credible contender should Karim Benzema’s off-field issues prevent him from making the final squad.

Bayern Munich’s teenage winger Kingsley Coman came off the bench to score France’s final goal of the night and suddenly it is worth wondering whether France even need Real Madrid star Benzema after they racked up seven goals in two games over the last five days.

“I was expecting that question,” said Deschamps. “We need to talk about the players who were there. We will see about the rest later.

“I have different profiles of player and players who can play in different positions. The important thing is that we remain dangerous going forward and keep scoring goals.

“We have a team who like to get forward and who link up well. There have been lots of positives.”

France have won seven times in eight friendly matches this season and are looking like genuine contenders to win the Euros, which they open when they face Romania at the Stade de France on June 10.

Russia, who will face England, Wales and Slovakia in Group B when they return to France for the finals, were disappointing for much of Tuesday’s game despite coach Leonid Slutsky sending out a strong team.

However, Slutsky was happier with their second-half display, when they got both of their goals courtesy of Alexander Kokorin and Yuri Zhirkov.

“It was a game of two halves. In the first half, we were too timid and then after the break I was satisfied with the performance and the quality of our game,” he said.

“I am still moderately optimistic for the future. France are one of the favourites to win the Euros.”

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