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Kante crucial to France's success once again after 2 years away

Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto / Getty Images Sport / Getty

DUSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — It was a classic N'Golo Kante performance. Effective, understated — and overshadowed by a teammate.

With all the attention on Kylian Mbappe and his injured nose, Kante's tireless defensive midfield work was quietly crucial to France's 1-0 win over Austria at the European Championship on Monday.

Kante had not played a competitive game for France in two years. It was as if the 33-year-old had never been away. He completed 92% of his passes and stopped Austria counterattacks to preserve France's lead following an Austria own goal.

"Of course he was brilliant, he was bright tonight, we needed that," France coach Didier Deschamps said through a translator.

On a night when seven yellow cards were issued in total and emotions ran high, especially after Austria fans booed the injured Mbappe for what they saw as time-wasting, Kante brought much-needed calm to the French midfield.

Kante was a key part of the team which won the 2018 World Cup but he last played a competitive game for France in the Nations League in June 2022. A hamstring injury meant he missed the World Cup in Qatar that year, when France was runner-up to Argentina.

Now playing in the Saudi Pro League, Kante was called back into the team for Euro 2024. Fitness concerns over Real Madrid's Aurelien Tchouameni opened up a spot in the starting lineup in the defensive midfield role.

"It was a bit difficult to start, with apprehension," Kante said in translated comments. "It was good to start together, it was nice to get these feelings back. We started very well for this competition and we're very happy about this. This is great."

When Mbappe was substituted ahead of nine minutes of added time, it was Kante who took over the captaincy and steered France to victory.

"It is the first time and I wasn't expecting it, and this is an honor," he said. "I felt very pleased. It was for a few minutes but I have to say that it represents quite a lot. I'm very proud of that indeed."


AP Euro 2024:

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