France defeats Russia in Paris thriller


ANALYSIS; France 4-2 Russia

N'Golo Kante scored on his first start for France to further boost his chances of Euro 2016 selection as Didier Deschamps' side beat Russia 4-2 in a thrilling encounter in Paris on Wednesday (AEDT).

In what was Les Bleus' first match at the Stade de France since the Paris terror attacks on 13 November, Kante — celebrating his 25th birthday — gave another tenacious performance in midfield and got the hosts off to a fine start, while Dimitri Payet — another birthday boy — also scored in spectacular style to surely secure his place in Deschamps's final squad.

Andre-Pierre Gignac replaced Olivier Giroud in one of four changes from Saturday's (AEDT) 3-2 defeat of Netherlands and the Tigres striker made it 2-0, expertly directing a header past Igor Akinfeev towards the end of the first period.

France monopolised possession and afforded Russia little space to attack, but the visitor did pull one back from a set-piece just before the hour mark – Aleksandr Kokorin nodding in.

Payet's glorious free-kick restored the two-goal cushion with 64 minutes on the clock, less than 60 seconds after coming on, only for Yuri Zhirkov to hit back shortly after.

France eventually put the fightback beyond Russia as Kingsley Coman netted his first international goal with a clever finish 14 minutes from time.

France played with freedom from the off, moving the ball effortlessly in midfield and attacking in numbers, ultimately resulting in the opening goal after just nine minutes.

Gignac linked well with Antoine Griezmann on the edge of the area, with the latter showing great awareness to spot the run of Kante, who confidently steered home after initially winning possession back to begin the move.

The hosts were showing great composure on the ball and another incisive move saw Griezmann presented with an opportunity, only for the Atletico Madrid man to drag wide from 20 yards.

France eventually doubled its lead seven minutes before the break, as Gignac darted in front of Kokorin to meet Griezmann's free-kick delivery and the centre-forward brilliantly directed a diving header across the face of goal and into the bottom-right corner.  

Russia halved the deficit in the 56th minute, as Lucas Digne — sent on to replace the injured Jeremy Mathieu just a few moments earlier — failed to track Kokorin and the forward headed Alan Dzagoev's free-kick past the helpless Hugo Lloris.

Payet put France two ahead once again just a few seconds after coming on in the 63rd minute, sending a 30-yard free-kick into the top corner in stunning fashion, but Zhirkov hit back soon after, tapping home after a darting run and cutback from Oleg Shatov.

France finally put the match beyond Russia in the 76th minute, though, as Coman chased Payet's pass, turned back on himself to evade Akinfeev and then slammed an emphatic strike into the roof of the net to wrap things up.