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Saturday, December 05, 2020

France eclipse holders Portugal to reach UEFA Nations League final four

After N’Golo Kante’s second-half strike handed Portugal their only second defeat since the 2018 World Cup, France went top of Group A3 with an unassailable 13 points from five matches.

By: Reuters | November 15, 2020 8:44:34 am
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo in action with France's N'Golo Kante. (Reuters)

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.

Anthony Martial missed three clear-cut first half chances for France before Kante scored only his second international goal in the 54th minute, and his first since 2016, to end Portugal’s run of five successive clean sheets.

World champions France went top of Group A3 with 13 points from five games, three ahead of Portugal and with the better head-to-head record to give them an unassailable lead. It was only Portugal’s second defeat since the 2018 World Cup.

“Given the quality of the opposition, it’s of course one of our best performances of recent times,” France coach Didier Deschamps said of Portugal, who are 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’s excellent 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 close range by Patricio from Lucas Hernandez’s cross.

At the other end, Cristiano Ronaldo forced a diving save from France captain Hugo Lloris and also wasted a free kick which he drove straight into the wall.

France finally broke through just as Portugal appeared to be imposing themselves. Griezmann slipped another ball through to Rabiot whose shot was parried by Patricio and Kante was on hand to score from the rebound.

Portugal had three chances go begging in the same attack, including a Jose Fonte header against the post, and Lloris made a one-handed save to parry a raking drive from Joao Moutinho, who then saw his cross evade three forwards as France held out.

Sweden beat Croatia 2-1 to stave off relegation

Goals from Dejan Kulusevski and Marcus Danielsson snapped Sweden’s four-game losing streak in the Nations League as they beat Croatia 2-1 in Stockholm on Saturday.

Needing a win to avoid relegation from Group A3, the victory keeps Sweden’s survival hopes alive as they head into their final group game against France in Paris on Wednesday, despite still being bottom of the group.

Sweden boss Janne Andersson had to watch the game from home following a positive test for COVID-19 and 20-year-old forward Kulusevksi was chosen to start upfront with Marcus Berg.

The win leaves Sweden bottom of the group on three points, with the Croatians third on goal difference.

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