Football

France players not weighed down by club issues: Didier Deschamps

Despite several key players struggling at club level, France down Portugal 1-0

France coach Didier Deschamps hailed his players for putting aside their "difficult situations" at club level after they beat European champions Portugal 1-0 to qualify for the Nations League Finals yesterday morning (Singapore time).

A rare N'Golo Kante goal in the 53rd minute, his second in 44 caps, handed Nations League holders Portugal just their second defeat since the 2018 World Cup. The result at the Estadio da Luz also ended their run of five successive clean sheets.

France may be world champions but several of their players who featured in Lisbon have had struggles at club level.

Deschamps had remarked before the match about how Paul Pogba's situation has "mentally impacted" him while his Manchester United teammate Anthony Martial has scored just twice in seven matches this season, having missed another three after getting himself sent off during the 6-1 mauling by Tottenham Hotspur last month.

Meanwhile, Antoine Griezmann has struggled to adapt since joining Barcelona last year while Raphael Varane has been subject to criticism for his poor form for Real Madrid.

Olivier Giroud, who came off the bench and is a favourite of Deschamps, has played just 154 minutes for Chelsea this season.

Deschamps told French broadcaster TF1: "It's great to see the players like that, to come out and win here.

"This victory is deserved, with a lot of solidarity, (and) also quality...

"It's not always easy, especially during these complicated times. Some have club situations which are not the best.

"But when they meet here, there is still that competitive spirit and tonight they have proven that the France team is still a great team.

"Taking into account the quality of the opponent, obviously this is a benchmark match."

France are top of Nations League A, Group 3, with 13 points from five games, three ahead of Portugal and with the better head-to-head record to give them an unassailable lead.

Said Portugal coach Fernando Santos: "I don't know what went wrong in the first half, it wasn't what I expected but it was my responsibility.

"We were better in the second half but then conceded the goal which settled the game... we had three or four chances to equalise."

Football