DOHA, Qatar — After going down early, reigning World Cup champions France came roaring back at Al-Janoub Stadium on Tuesday to beat Australia 4-1 in Group D.
Australia’s Craig Goodwin scored in just the ninth minute as French defender Lucas Hernández went down on the play. But France responded with four unanswered goals from Adrien Rabiot, Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappé to win.
Here is ESPN’s Julien Laurens with reaction and analysis from Qatar.
1. France stumble at first, but get their winning start
It was not easy for Les Bleus — it never is against Australia (remember 2018 in Russia), and it is never easy in their World Cup openers (remember 2002, 2006, 2010). But a win is a win, and France will take that for now.
Considering the recent drama — the injuries, including the last one ruling out Karim Benzema from the tournament three days ago, the tensions, the uncertainties — plus the nerves of this first game, Tuesday’s win is a start that could be more valuable than just three points for manager Didier Deschamps and his players. Les Bleus showed character, determination and turned things around, which will bring them a lot of momentum.
There are things to improve and to correct, of course — especially defensively — but once the pieces of this new-look team fell into the right place, with Antoine Griezmann taking a while to adjust to his new role of a hybrid No. 8/No. 10, it was much better. The ball movement became more fluid, the shape of the team was more balanced and France took control.
To win the World Cup back to back, a feat only achieved by Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962, France will need more control and more solidity. They lost another starter through injury, Lucas Hernandez, and it will continue to test France’s depth.
But for now, the French side will be happy. Only one reigning champion had won their opening game in the last five World Cups, Brazil in 2006. France in 2002, Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018 all failed to do so. For this, France can’t be too upset about the goal they conceded.
2. Giroud equals Henry’s record
Olivier Giroud likes to say that his football career is an endless new beginning. It sums up his career and how he keeps rising, even when he is expected to fall.
Giroud scored his 50th and 51st international goals for France against Australia for his 115th cap, equaling Thierry Henry’s record for the French men’s team, but with eight games less. It is an incredible achievement for an incredible destiny.
The AC Milan striker was not sure to be part of this adventure. Deschamps had his doubts about Giroud and was hesitant to name him in the squad. Then, he was supposed to be Benzema’s back up, but once again fate played in the 36-year-old’s favour.
His first goal was a tap-in, like Giroud has scored hundreds through his life — but it is probably the most important tap in of his life. His second was a header like he has scored hundreds in his life, but again it is probably the most important header of all.
In 2018, France won the World Cup without him scoring a single goal. He has two already in this edition and the pressure is off his back.
Before the game, he had a feeling that he would find the net. He was also one of the first to congratulate Kylian Mbappé when the PSG striker, who is 13 years his junior and assisted him on his second, also scored in the second half.
At 36 years old, Giroud became the oldest goal scorer for France in men’s World Cup history, overtaking Zinedine Zidane. Beating Zidane and equalling Henry? What an incredible night for Giroud.
3. Debutants who debut well
France’s two centre-backs and two central midfielders made their World Cup debut against Australia at the heart of the France team, and they came in with a lot of question marks surrounding them. The nerves clearly kicked in, and they all had a terrible first 15 minutes, conceding a goal, losing duels, not winning second balls and struggling to find their position on the pitch.
Then Rabiot scored to make it 1-1 and it all clicked. Suddenly, there were dominant and efficient. They will face tougher tests, of course, starting with the next game against Denmark on Saturday, but for a debut, they went from strength to strength.
It is not easy to follow in the steps of Raphael Varane who should be back against the Danes), Samuel Umtiti, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté and this is very much a quartet for the future. But the World Cup will be an amazing learning curve.
These four players are respectively 23, 24, 22 and 27 years old. They have a combined total of 56 caps and until Tuesday had never all played together for France, let alone starting together and let alone in a World Cup game. For them as well, like for Giroud, it will be an unforgettable night.
France: Lloris 5, Pavard 5, Konaté 6, Upamecano 6, Theo 6, Rabiot 7, Tchouameni 6, Dembele 4, Griezmann 6, Mbappé 8, Giroud 7.
Australia: Ryan 4, Atkinson 2, Souttar 4, Rowles 3, Behich 4, Irvine 5, Mooy 4, McGree 4, Leckie 5, Duke 4, Goodwin 5.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Kylian Mbappé, France
Sometimes he tried to do too much, but he was excellent along the left wing with his pace and his dribbling. His goal, a rare header, rewarded all his wizardry with the ball, and he also crossed the ball for Giroud’s second goal while he could have scored more. Outstanding once again.
WORST: Nathaniel Atkinson, Australia
The Hearts right-back struggled all night long against Mbappé. It was an ordeal for him, beaten by pace, by skills and it got even worse when Theo Hernandez came on for his brother and brought his attacking side to the game.
Highlights and notable moments
Tuesday’s Group D opener started in surprising fashion as Australia struck first.
In a double whammy, French defender Lucas Hernandez went down injured as Australia’s Mathew Leckie blew past him, and delivered a ball for Craig Goodwin to run onto and shoot.
Another look at Craig Goodwin’s goal that gives Australia an early lead!! 🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/w7cplxbXyX
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 22, 2022
Lucas Hernandez was forced to come out, replaced by his brother, Theo Hernandez, it didn’t take too long for the reigning World Cup champions to level the score.
Adrien Rabiot found the equaliser with an assist from the Hernandez who had come on for the injury substitution.
😬 ¡FRANCIA NO SE ESTÁ DEJANDO!
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) November 22, 2022
From there, France took hold of the bench and didn’t let go. There were some nervy moments, including a shot for Australia off the post in first-half stoppage time, but the ones scoring were the French team.
The eventual game-winner came from Olivier Giroud in the 32nd minute.
He scores his 50th goal for France and puts Les Bleus out in front! pic.twitter.com/MDzBWoDJOI
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 22, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
French manager Didier Deschamps on Lucas Hernandez: “He needs to do some tests but it seems pretty serious. That’s the big black spot tonight.”
Socceroos manager Graham Arnold told SBS: “Look at the end of the day, they’re a quality side. They’re world champions for a reason. I was happy with the first half. Second half we ran out of legs a bit, but that’s the type of level these (French) players play at. We’ll pick the boys up for sure. They should be proud of their effort, the commitment they gave. But again, they are the world champions for a reason.”
Goodwin on his goal: “It’s almost an indescribable feeling. To score at a World Cup against the champions is something I’ll remember forever.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Entering Tuesday’s game, reigning men’s World Cup champions were 9-4-4 (W-L-D) in their opening World Cup matches. The last reigning champion to win their first match was Brazil in 2006.
This is the second fastest goal France has ever conceded in their opening game at a men’s World Cup, and the fastest since 1982 when England’s Bryan Robson scored in the first minute.
With his goal, Olivier Giroud earlier became France’s oldest goal scorer in men’s World Cup history, a distinction previously held by Zinedine Zidane.
France: Les Bleus continue their run through Group D and face Denmark on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 11 a.m. ET. Then, they finish the group stage against Tunisia on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 10 a.m. ET.
Australia: The Socceroos continue their run through Group D and face Tunisia on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 5 a.m. ET. Then, they finish the group stage against Denmark on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 10 a.m. ET.