Amid the familiar backdrop of a France victory at the weekend, one that ensured progress for Les Bleus to the Nations League semi-finals, there was the rarer treat of a goal for N’Golo Kante to seal the victory against Portugal.
While the midfielder has chipped in with the occasional strike at club level, including three last season against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, his close-range finish on the rebound in Lisbon was his first in national team colours for four years.
Of course, during that time, he has helped Didier Deschamps’s men lift the World Cup, qualify for the delayed European Championship and now become the first team into the last four of the second edition Nations League finals.
The Parisian is practically a national hero in his homeland, cherished for his understated manner and selfless work. It is not often he takes centre stage but, having netted the only goal of a tight contest against Portugal, it was left to him to reflect on the result.
‘We knew we had to score to win, or a draw with us scoring would put us in a favourable position,’ Kante explained. ‘I didn’t know it was going to fall upon me but I am happy.
‘We had a good feeling on the pitch. We knew it was an important match that we needed to score in and we needed to win so I’m satisfied with my performance, the performance of the team and to be qualified for the final four.’
The Nations League finals are scheduled to take place in October 2021 so their place on the international priority list will now be supplanted by the delayed Euro 2020, which is pencilled in for next June. As reigning world champions, expectations on France will be high but Kante foresees an open field.
‘There is quite a lot of expectation around us and we have a lot of good players in our squad,’ he admitted. ‘We won the World Cup title so we are a good team but the Euros will be a different story.
‘There will be a fair amount of good sides and anything can happen in a competition but we certainly have a great team.’
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With qualification in the bag, France now have a dead-rubber against Sweden in Paris tomorrow before attentions revert to the busy club campaign. Kante has been back to his best in a roaming destroyer role for Frank Lampard’s Blues in recent weeks and the team’s upturn in form has seen them win four consecutive matches in all competitions, conceding just once.
As a two-time Premier League champion, the 29-year-old knows what it takes to go the distance and has issued a rallying cry to his team-mates to maintain these standards throughout what promises to be a relentless winter.
‘The team has changed in recent years but the coach has been here for a year working together now,’ he added.
‘We’ve signed some new players and what we are trying to do is maintain Chelsea’s standards – win titles and be at the top nationally. We are well-placed at the moment and I hope we continue in this vein.’
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