Four of the last five World Cup winners have gone on to crash out in the group stages at the subsequent tournament, a statistic beginning with France themselves back in 2002. For a 20-minute spell in their Group D opener against Australia, you could be forgiven for thinking history would repeat itself. Now though, they’ll be expecting to build on a display highlighting some strengths while lluminating weaknesses with tougher challenges in the days to come.
Rabiot, Mbappe and Giroud seal big win for Deschamps’ men
France 4-1 Australia
Rabiot 27′, Giroud 32′, 71′, Mbappe 68′ — Goodwin 9′
- Olivier Giroud’s brace means he now sits alongside Thierry Henry as France’s top goalscorer of all-time with 51 goals – achieved in 10 fewer international appearances
- Lucas Hernandez’s suspected ACL injury the latest blow for world champions, who already had a series of key players sidelined including Kanté and Benzema
- Denmark’s goalless draw against Tunisia earlier in the day means Group D remains finely poised before second round of fixtures this weekend. For context, Kasper Hjulmand’s men beat Les Bleus both home and away in the Nations League earlier this year
Argentina scored first but conceded twice in five second-half minutes as Saudi Arabia stunned them in the day’s early kick-off and within ten minutes, another big shock was in the offing.
Stoke centre-back Harry Souttar’s great diagonal pass to Mathew Leckie was brilliantly controlled by the winger, whose first touch took him beyond Lucas Hernandez – twisting the fullback inside out – before squaring the ball across the box for Craig Goodwin.
Goodwin, who scored or assisted in all but one of his last six A-League appearances for Adelaide United, made no mistake sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way to fire into the roof of the net.
Hernandez, lying on the turf in agony, fell awkwardly and appeared to have twisted his knee. The stretcher was swiftly out and he was replaced by younger sibling Theo after 12 minutes. Given Karim Benzema’s training injury at the weekend, this marked yet another injury setback.
As if they don’t have enough issues with personnel already.
Theo – for all his forward forays and creative ability – has defensive deficiencies that can be exploited. He relinquished possession cheaply, with Mitchell Duke just a whisker away from scoring a well-struck screamer to double the Australia lead. Then, France equalised.
The Socceroos‘ backline switched off from a corner, Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot timed his run perfectly to head home from close-range as Theo floated a cross goalwards.
Five minutes later – following the Argentina-Saudi Arabia theme – Milan striker Olivier Giroud notched his 50th goal for Les Bleus with a tap-in. He got the record-equalling 51st later on.
Nathaniel Atkinson had the ball robbed from him by Rabiot, a clever Kylian Mbappe backflick later helped Rabiot tee up the frontman to give them a slender lead.
It could’ve easily been four or five before half-time in truth.
Giroud blasted one effort over the crossbar, and could’ve had a hat-trick had Antoine Griezmann not got in the way of a well-worked passing move. Griezmann, then Mbappe, both spurned big goalscoring chances to add to their lead before a timely warning sign arrived in stoppage-time.
Riley McGree advanced down the left-hand side, fed a cross into St. Pauli midfielder Jackson Irvine in the area and his glancing header left Lloris rooted to the spot as it flicked off the post. Other side of the woodwork and 2-2 there, that’s how quickly things can turn.
Hearts centre-back Kye Rowles made an inch-perfect sliding tackle to deny a marauding Mbappe as he exchanged a one-two with Giroud near the hour mark, while Aziz Behich made a goalline clearance to thwart Griezmann from a first international goal in 10 appearances.
Australia dealt relatively well with the swarming attacks on their own area. But inviting pressure the way they did eventually haunted them as the deficit increased: Mbappe finally got the goal he longed for, with a clever header in off the post after Ousmane Dembele’s teasing cross.
Then, he turned creator after leaving Atkinson dead – not for the first time – crossing on his weaker left foot for Giroud to bundle home as opposition defenders charged him. Soaking up the moment while rubbing his head in pain, the 36-year-old now has another stat to savour.
After multiple years of criticism over fit and consistency, he’s now affirmed as their joint-top goalscorer with 51 goals in 113 appearances alongside the legendary Thierry Henry (1997-2010) and there’s no reason why he can’t break that record before these group stage fixtures are over.
Ibrahima Konaté had a headed effort parried from point-blank range by Mathew Ryan, while Borussia Monchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram made a cameo in his first international appearance since their penalty shootout defeat by Switzerland at the Euros last June.
Denmark were billed as dark horses before the tournament so after their goalless draw with Tunisia in the day’s 1pm kick-off, Group D is wide open. Saturday afternoon will be interesting.
Picture source: Getty Images