French in semis, holders Portugal out

French in semis, holders Portugal out

LISBON • France handed defending Nations League champions Portugal a rare defeat on Saturday, winning 1-0 away to reach the competition’s final four at the expense of the holders.

Anthony Martial missed three clear-cut first-half chances before N’Golo Kante’s second-half strike ended the hosts’ run of five successive clean sheets.

World champions France went top of League A Group 3 with 13 points from five games, three ahead of Portugal and their better head-to-head record gives them an unassailable lead.

It was only the Selecao’s second defeat since the 2018 World Cup, leaving Didier Deschamps thrilled with the statement victory.

“Given the quality of the opposition, it’s of course one of our best performances of recent times,” the France coach said of the European champions.

“We deserved the win and we’ve fulfilled our objective of finishing top. I’m very proud of the players. They proved tonight that France are still a great team.”

Antoine Griezmann set up Martial’s first chance in the 12th minute with a slide-rule pass but Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio blocked it at point-blank range.

Martial then diverted Adrien Rabiot’s acrobatic effort onto the bar with his head and saw another effort brilliantly saved.

At the other end, captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who is seven goals short of equalling the all-time international record held by Iran great Ali Daei (109), forced a diving save from France captain Hugo Lloris and also wasted a free kick by driving straight into the wall.

France finally broke through just as Portugal appeared to be imposing themselves, with Kante on hand to score from the rebound after Rabiot’s shot was parried, netting just his second international goal and his first since 2016.

Portugal had chances to equalise in the second half but Jose Fonte’s header struck the post, while Lloris had to make a one-handed save to parry a raking drive from Joao Moutinho, as the visitors held out at the Estadio da Luz.

“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 conceded the goal which settled the game… we had three or four chances to equalise.”

Deschamps’ men are the first team to advance to the knockout stage, which Uefa has pencilled in for next October.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS