French win on return to site of terror

PARIS • N'Golo Kante celebrated his birthday with a goal on his first international start to set France up for a 4-2 friendly win against Russia on an emotional return to the Stade de France on Tuesday.

The Leicester midfielder opened the scoring just eight minutes into his full debut for Les Bleus. Andre-Pierre Gignac doubled the lead before Alexander Kokorin headed in for Russia in the second half.

Dimitri Payet then demonstrated how important he can be to the French side with a stunning free kick just after the hour mark. Kingsley Coman netted in equally spectacular fashion after Yuri Zhirkov added another for the Russians in an entertaining contest.

Despite the goals conceded, it was a very encouraging win for the Euro 2016 hosts on the night international football came back to the Stade de France just over four months on from the terror attacks that took place just outside the ground and elsewhere in Paris.

"There were lots of good things. Not everything was perfect but this is a team that likes to get forward. The players link up well and we have lots of pace," said France coach Didier Deschamps, whose side recorded a 3-2 victory against the Netherlands on Friday.

"They are only friendly matches but we need to win them. It's good for confidence, for our serenity, but the truth will come in June."

With November's events still fresh in the memory, security was extremely tight for a game played in front of a crowd of around 65,000, including French President Francois Hollande, at the stadium that will host the European Championship final in July.

And fortunately this time the football took centre stage as Deschamps' team displayed why they must be considered one of the favourites to win the title.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'French win on return to site of terror'. Print Edition | Subscribe