Kylian Mbappe is always the headline act when he pulls on the France shirt, but an old campaigner shared top billing by rolling back the years as Austria were eventually overcome in Dusseldorf.

Mbappe’s so far chequered relationship with the European Championship continues and was summed up in one eventful night as he carved out France’s fortunate winner, missed a simple chance barely anyone in Dusseldorf Arena could believe, before finding himself covered in blood from a nasty nose injury following an aerial collision.

He even picked up a yellow card after what looked like a blatant act of gamesmanship from France as the blood-stained Mbappe, clearly unable to play on, went back on, dropping theatrically to the floor before being substituted, precious time wasted.

It was a needless caution that France will hope does not prove costly later in the tournament.

On this night, however, France can offer most gratitude to the peerless 33-year-old N’Golo Kante, who showed exactly why coach Didier Deschamps was so keen to name him in his squad for the Euros after a two-year exile from the international stage.

‘Kante still ticks all the boxes’

Kante last played for France in a Uefa Nations League game against Denmark in June 2022 before making his comeback in the friendly against Luxembourg earlier this month.

He may now be plying his trade in the Saudi Pro League with Al-Ittihad, but Deschamps knows rich pedigree and a proven winning record when he sees it and Kante still ticks all the boxes – despite being at the latter stage of a glittering career.

Kante won the World Cup with France in 2018, the Premier League with Leicester City and Chelsea and also lifted the Europa League and Champions League trophies while at Stamford Bridge.

And on the evidence he produced in the winning start that is always so vital in these tournaments, Kante is not on a sentimental journey here in Germany.

From the first whistle to the last in this 1-0 win, Kante showed he still possesses all the old instincts to sniff out danger, keep the midfield – and as a consequence the France team – ticking over and act as an impenetrable shield against any Austria threat.

It was summed up in one vital moment late on when, with Austria chasing an equaliser, substitute Patrick Wimmer broke clear and was racing towards France keeper Mike Maignan.

Kante was yards behind Wimmer but found the pace and positioning to overhaul him, then got in front of the Austrian to sweep the ball away before he could get his shot – and a potential equaliser – on target.

It brought a huge roar of approval from the massed ranks of France fans inside Arena Dusseldorf. It was a typical Kante moment that effectively sealed the win.

He was rightly voted man of the match, his value to Deschamps underscored. The great teams always like to have an Mbappe – but they also need a Kante.

Whether Kante can produce this standard regularly at the veteran stage remains to be seen, but his track record suggests you would not bet against it.

Mbappe was at the centre of the action throughout as he tries to fill the gap in his international collection after also winning the World Cup in 2018.

He has yet to score in the Euros, missing the decisive penalty when France lost to Switzerland in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

He saw an early chance turned into the side-netting by Austria keeper Patrick Pentz before showing searing pace after his sleight of foot left defender Phillipp Mwene trailing, his cross then being headed into his own net by Maximilian Wober.

Mbappe was always in the action, against demonstrating lightning speed to haul in Wober after the break before placing a shot wide with the goal at his mercy. He was not the only one inside the stadium left holding his head in disbelief, showing even the best are fallible.

It remains to be seen whether Mbappe’s nose injury, sustained in a hefty aerial collision with Austria’s Kevin Danso, keeps him out of Group D’s big game when France meet the Netherlands on Friday.

Mbappe’s bloody and painful end to the night was the only downside as France, while never at their best, showed their pace and threat in the shape of Ousmane Dembele and the enduring guile of Antoine Griezmann.

Kante outshone them all, looking at his best as he proved two years away from the France team and playing in the less-intense environment of the Saudi Pro League has not blunted his competitive edge or hunger for success

Advertisement