Kante, back in the starting XI after coming on as a substitute in the friendly defeat to Finland, bundled in from close range in the second half.
Manchester United’s Anthony Martial had earlier headed on to the crossbar.
And Portugal defender Jose Fonte also hit the post in the second half.Cristiano Ronaldo, who remains seven behind Iran legend Ali Daei’s all-time international goals record, was a threat as always but he headed his best chance of the match over the bar in the first half.
He teed up substitute Joao Moutinho late in the second half too but the Wolves midfielder’s powerful shot was well saved by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
France had the better of the chances before the break – Rui Patricio saved smartly from Martial on two occasions, while Kingsley Coman looked sharp for the world champions.
They were rewarded in the 53rd minute when Adrien Rabiot’s shot was parried by Rui Patricio straight into the path of Kante, who poked it in from two yards out.
The result means France go top of group A3 with one game remaining, while Sweden’s 2-1 win over Croatia in Saturday’s other match means there remains a battle to avoid relegation.