Portugal 0-1 France
Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté scored the only goal in a hard-fought victory for France at the Estádio da Luz. France’s win puts them into first place in Group 3 to qualify for the UEFA Nations League knockout rounds.
Portugal’s defeat – their first ever in the competition – means they won’t be able to retain the trophy.
Fernando Santos’s side faced an entirely different class of opposition after Portugal’s 7-0 win over Andorra midweek. The Seleção fielded a heavily-changed team, as the European champions took on World champions, France. These two sides met just last month with a 0-0 draw at the Stade de France. Both teams came into this on the same points and to qualify to the Nations League knockout round Portugal needed a goalless draw or a win, while France needed a win or a score draw.
France were without the injured Kylian Mbappé – good news for Rúben Dias and José Fonte – starting instead with a front three of Kingsley Coman, Anthony Martial, and Antoine Griezmann. For Portugal, Renato Sanches and Domingos Duarte missed out on the match day squad, with Santos going for a front three of Bernardo Silva, João Félix, and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It was the visitors who had the first real chance of the game when Griezmann played in Anthony Martial but Rui Patrício was quick off his line to deny the Manchester United forward. France came close again at the half hour mark, a well-worked free kick from Griezmann found its way to Martial to head onto the bar from close range. Rui Patrício denied Anthony Martial again just before the break. France worked the ball well, with Lucas Hernández in plenty of space on the left. The full back’s cross found Martial whose point-blank shot was well saved by the Wolves goalkeeper.
Despite France having the majority of the chances in the first half, Portugal almost went into the break with a goal but Cristiano Ronaldo’s header from a corner went just over Hugo Lloris’s goal.
Although Portugal had a bright start to the second half, it was France who took the lead. Adrien Rabiot found himself space to shoot in the area. Patrício was able to block the shot but his parry found N’Golo Kanté to finish and put the visitors ahead. Portugal almost equalized just minutes later. A long-range effort from Raphaël Guerreiro was well-saved by Hugo Lloris and on the rebound José Fonte’s effort crashed off the post.
Fernando Santos made changes to his team with Diogo Jota, João Moutinho, and Francisco Trincão all coming on as Portugal searched for an equalizer. Indeed, Moutinho came close with an effort from just outside the box that forced a fine acrobatic save from Hugo Lloris. Although Portugal improved after the substitutions, they weren’t able to apply a lot of pressure, allowing France to see off the remaining minutes fairly comfortably.
It was a fairly even game in truth, but it was France’s midfield dominance – with Kanté at its core – that gave them the victory. Portugal were unable to unlock space for the attack to create. Portugal play next against Croatia, who were defeated by Sweden this evening, in a dead rubber game that will perhaps give Fernando Santos the chance to experiment with his squad once more.
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’