France qualified for the 2021 UEFA Nations League finals with a 1-0 victory over defending champions Portugal in Lisbon.
The visitors had the better of the first half as Rui Patricio was twice forced to rush from goal to make close-range saves from Anthony Martial. Portugal themselves could have gone ahead in the last minute of the half when Cristiano Ronaldo headed over from a corner from just six yards out.
N’Golo Kante gave France the lead early in the second half when he tapped home from close range after Patrico had parried Adrien Rabiot’s shot. Jose Fonte hit the post for Portugal soon after, and the French survived an incessant bout of pressure in the last 15 minutes to seal the victory.
France now lead Portugal by three points in Group A3, and will win this section whatever happens in the remaining round of matches on Tuesday. The two teams will next face each other in Budapest in the group stages of the European Championship in June 2021.
Antoine Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal - France
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Can France add more titles to their collection? The Portuguese team bring back bad memories for France. Just four years ago they were sucker punched by a late goal in extra-time from Eder than consigned them to defeat in the final of the European Championship they were hosting. Though while that would have sent most teams into a long period of deep introspection, Didier Deschamps’ side bounced back to win the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
Even so, it must still nag the French that the delayed European Championship that is scheduled to take place next summer does not represent the chance to emulate the great Spanish team of a decade ago that sandwiched their World Cup victory in South Africa with back-to-back successes in the European Championship. Instead, in 2021 they will have the chance to be the first European side to hold all three trophies available to a European international team at one time.
Nothing is for certain in this world right now. Football’s calendar may need to be adjusted again, but if things proceed as currently planned Deschamps’ team will be among the favourites to win the continent-wide European Championship in the summer. Now, after this victory in Lisbon, they are the first team to qualify for the exclusive, four-team Nations League Finals being staged four months later. When Kylian Mbappe returns to a side that outplayed the current European champions and Nations League holders tonight, the chances of France securing one or both will only improve.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Antoine Griezmann (France): All of France’s best moments tonight originated from the feet of Griezmann. He was a constant problem for Portugal, flitting around in the gap between their midfield and defence to adroitly knit the French attacks together.
Kanté (France) v Portugal
Image credit: Getty Images
Portugal: Patricio 7; Cancelo 7, Fonte 6, Dias 6, Guerreiro 7; Pereira 6, Carvalho 6 Bruno Fernandes 5; Felix 6, Ronaldo 6, Bernardo Silva 5. Subs: Jota 6, Oliveira 6, Trincao 6, Moutinho 6, Paulinho 6
France: Lloris 6; Hernandez 7, Kimpembe 7, Varane 6, Pavard 6; Kante 7, Rabiot 7, Pogba 6, Griezmann 8; Martial 6, Coman 6. Subs: Giroud 6, Thuram 6
12’ - GOOD SAVE! Patricio rescues Portugal again. France cut right through the middle of the Portuguese team, as Griezmann breaks forwards and slides a pass between Dias and Fonte to release Martial into the area. Martial tries to prod it past Patricio from eight yards out but Patricio is out quickly to block the shot with his foot.
41’ - EXCELLENT SAVE! France break menacingly down the left as Griezmann finds Hernandez. He fires in a superb low cross into the six yard box where Martial slides in to finish, but Patricio again parries his effort at point blank range and Portugal scramble the ball out for a corner.
45’ - CHANCE! Cancelo wins another corner for Portugal. Fernandes whips the ball right onto the six-yard line where Ronaldo rises, but can only guide his header a yard over the bar. He should at least have hit the target there.
54’ - GOAL! Portugal 0 France 1 (Kante 54). France take the lead! After a patient bout of possession Griezmann finds Rabiot on the right of the area with a nice reverse pass. Rabiot drills a shot to the far corner that Patricio can only parry, and Kante follows in to tap home the rebound!
57’ - CHANCE! That could have been the match. Rabiot gets in space on the left and picks out Pogba with a gorgeous cross. From only six yards out, Pogba mistimes his header completely and can only send it softly at Patricio.
60’ - OFF THE POST! After Lloris parries away a 40 yard shot from Fernandes, Portugal cross it straight back into the box where Fonte crashes a header off the post and out from six yards away.
75’ - GOOD SAVE! Ronaldo has been peripheral, but suddenly snaps into life here; he dances past three on the right of the French area before laying it off to Moutinho on the edge. Moutinho wallops a ferocious drive to the top left corner and Lloris dives at full stretch to parry the ball away from goal.
- Kante’s second half strike ended the Portuguese run of 507 minutes without conceding a goal.