N’Golo Kante can play a key role against Belgium’s array of attacking talent after he kept Lionel Messi quiet in France’s World Cup victory over Argentina, according to Didier Deschamps.
France face Belgium in the first semi-final of the tournament in St Petersburg on Tuesday, with their opponents riding high after a shock 2-1 quarter-final triumph against Brazil, in which front three Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne excelled.
Kante trained separately from his team-mates on Monday, jogging lightly alongside right-back Benjamin Pavard at Krestovsky Stadium, but coach Deschamps is confident the Chelsea man will be available to shackle the Red Devils’ attacking stars from defensive midfield.
“Yes, he will have a role. He has a role in every match with some adjustments compared to what he’s done before,” said the former Les Bleus skipper.
“I want him to be as efficient as possible for our team.
“Of course, N’Golo is an essential part because of all the balls he gets back and his positions. He also has a lot of trajectories on offensive passing
“He will have an important role to play as he did in every match against players like Lionel Messi in the round of 16. He had a very precise role. It is true that we didn’t really see much of Lionel Messi when he played against us.”
When it was suggested to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez that Kante could effectively shutdown club-mate Hazard, he insisted his side’s approach would lie in their collective strength as they look to reach a first World Cup final.
“I think [we deal with Kante] in the same way that we’ve been performing through the tournament,” he said. “We are team who have all the individuals to make the difference and a goalscoring threat.
“But we are strong as a group. We have not been giving too much responsibility any individual.”
The last-four showdown pits two of the most impressively deep squads to have featured in Russia against one another and Deschamps feels the best years are ahead of his youthful and gifted France group, irrespective of the outcome.
“I said at the beginning of the competition – and the team that started this tournament is still the same team – that this team is competitive and is going to be even more competitive in two years and four years,” he added, having only selected nine of the squad that helped France to the final of Euro 2016 this time around.
“Apart from a few who are over the 30 mark, it is more difficult for them, but the rest should be there in two and four years. There is potential for progression that is quite strong.
“At the beginning [in the group stage], despite the results, it was sometimes a bit laborious. When it came to progression that was necessary. This experience should help them and serve them well for the next few years.”