By Mitch Phillips

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Eyebrows were raised when France recalled N'Golo Kante after two years in the international wilderness but coach Didier Deschamps knew what he was doing and the midfielder looked as if he had never been away in Monday's 1-0 win over Austria at Euro 2024.

Before the recall Kante's last game for his country was in June 2022 as he missed the World Cup with a hamstring injury.

A move to the Saudi Pro League appeared to have ended his France career but the 33-year-old was superb in their Group D clash on Monday, showing that playing at a lower club level did not equate to a drop in his own standards.

Kante showed the remarkable all-pitch energy that initially took him to the top of the world game, working tirelessly to keep the physical Austrians at long range, and also had the fitness to support French attacks deep into the match, while also showing his often underrated passing ability.

“His performance? You saw him,” Deschamps said. “We were sure about recalling him. He is smart – on a technical level he has the capacity to read balls and project himself. He was really bright tonight and we needed that.”

In the build-up to Monday’s game, team mate Marcus Thuram said of the returning Kante: “I have never seen anything like it, it's horrible. We can't play anymore, we can't play in training anymore. As soon as we have him on our team we know we have won."

Kante, as ever, cut a modest figure after being named man of the match and when Kylian Mbappe went off with a smashed nose late in the game, Kante took over the captaincy for the first time.

"I wasn’t expecting that, it was an honour," he said.

"I was a bit apprehensive at the start of the match but I enjoyed that feeling again. We wanted to make it difficult for the Austrians and it went pretty well I believe.”

Kante said he never felt his form would fall by playing in the Saudi league. “The expectation level is very high there,” he said. “I always give my best there and just want to do the same here.”

Overall, Deschamps was satisfied with the victory, albeit secured by an own goal, but was clearly worried about the extent of Mbappe's injury, which looked to be a broken nose.

"He's not doing well, he's with the medical staff," he said. "His nose got badly hit and we need to check that out and it's very unfortunate for us.

"The French team will always be stronger with Kylian but if he can't play we will do without him."

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)

2024-06-17T23:28:33Z dg43tfdfdgfd