France will look to put their surprise 2-0 home defeat to Finland behind them when they travel to face Portugal in a crucial UEFA Nations League clash on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
The world champions’ 12-match unbeaten run was ended as they suffered a reality check with two goals in the space of three first-half minutes from Marcus Forss and Onni Valakari deciding the contest in favour of the unfancied visitors at the Parc des Princes.
France attempted 24 shots during the friendly, their highest tally in a game without scoring a single goal since drawing with Luxembourg in September 2017.
“It was a very frustrating evening,” said debutant Ruben Aguilar. “I’m disappointed that my first senior cap for the national team ended in defeat. It was special to play even without fans in the ground. It was a proud moment to represent my country, but it would have been even more special had we won.
“We’re frustrated as we dominated from the first minute, but our focus now has to be on putting things right against Portugal on Saturday.”
The 2018 World Cup winners fielded an experimental starting line-up with Anthony Martial, Antoine Griezmann and N’Golo Kante left on the bench, while Marcus Thuram, Steven N’Zonzi and Leo Dubois were given a chance to impress.
But they, in addition to Paul Pogba, failed to impress. The Manchester United midfielder has found himself out of the side at club level, and France head coach Didier Deschamps hooked him after just 57 minutes following another below-par display.
Deschamps spoke in the lead-up to the friendly about the player needing to “rediscover his rhythm” after a start to the season that has been interrupted by a string of injuries and a positive coronavirus test.
But, like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Deschamps altered his system to one which could not cater for Pogba as he searched in vain to avoid an embarrassing result against the Finns. Pogba has not featured in United’s last two matches – making just 11 appearances this season, and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher claimed Manchester United should be looking to cash in.
Speaking on talkSPORT this week, he said: “He’s possibly never done well in any position or tactical set up that different managers have had,” Carragher said.
“Would I pick him in the Manchester United team? No, I wouldn’t. He’s a huge name, he’s come for a huge transfer fee, but I don’t think he’s a great player.
I do not believe Pogba and Bruno Fernandes can play in the same team, so you have to play Fernandes and he has played really well since he joined. I would be looking to take money for Pogba.
“People say he’s won the World Cup and I get that. But when he came in, I thought he might have the impact like (Frank) Lampard at Chelsea, (Steven) Gerrard at Liverpool, Yaya Toure at Man City – those players drove their team to titles, European Cups.
“When you’re that man who’s seen as the one to take United to the next level, which people might say it’s too much pressure to put on one man, but that’s what we were told was coming. It just hasn’t happened for him at Manchester United. For me, I’d be looking to move him on.”
Pogba aside, the France head coach has highlighted the importance of the trip to Lisbon as the world champions seek to book their place in the Nations League finals.
“It could prove decisive,” he said. “A win for either side would put them top of the group and in pole position to qualify for the final four. We know what to expect having drawn 0-0 with Portugal last month. It will be another tough game.
“Portugal are one of the best international teams in Europe, so we’ll look to recuperate following the Finland friendly and arrive in Lisbon in the best possible condition to win.”
Deschamps stressed he was not concerned by the surprise reverse to Finland in midweek, despite admitting his understrength team “took a slap”.
“We were below what I expected,” he added. “When it comes to our aggression, intensity, togetherness, it is a hard lesson for us to remember. Sometimes, it is nice to take a hard game like this in case we forget the basics.
“Those are the facts, and this is the reality of high-level football and hopefully we will learn. We took a good slap but I’m not going to dwell on it too much. The result is logical and we took a good lesson. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt.”
What’s at stake?
Quite simply, qualification for the knockout stages of the tournament next October is at stake. Defending Nations League champions Portugal currently sit top of Group A3, ahead of France only on goal difference.
Locked on 10 points each, both are comfortably ahead of third-placed Croatia while Sweden are bottom on zero points from their four games. Therefore, it is likely that qualification for the final four will hinge on the result at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz.
Did you know?
France and Portugal have previously faced each other 26 times, with the French winning 18 of those matches. Portugal have beaten France on six occasions, with two games between these sides ending in draws.
Portugal head coach Fernando Santos will recall Cristiano Ronaldo to his starting XI having restricted him to an appearance from the bench against Andorra, while goalkeeper Rui Patricio will return alongside Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro in defence.
William Carvalho, Danilo Pereira and Bruno Fernandes are expected to make up the midfield, with Joao Felix and Bernardo Silva likely to support Ronaldo up front.
France will be without Wissam Ben Yedder for the games against Portugal and Sweden after the Monaco forward tested positive for Covid-19. Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar has been ruled out with a thigh injury but Deschamps is hopeful of having injured duo Benjamin Pavard and Kylian Mbappe back.
Kingsley Coman sustained an ankle problem during training but should be available meaning Marcus Thuram is likely to drop down to the bench. Hugo Lloris should come back to replace Steve Mandanda in goal.
How to follow
Watch Portugal vs France live on Sky Sports Football; coverage starts at 7.40pm with kick-off at 7.45pm.
You can also follow all the latest in our dedicated live blog across Sky Sports’ digital platforms, including build-up, match commentary and the latest analysis. Plus, watch in-game goals and free match highlights shortly after full-time.