The 2022 Qatar World Cup could hardly have started any better for Australia, claiming a stunning lead over reigning champions France less than ten minutes into their opening clash.
It would be the Socceroos’ only shot on target in the match, as the star-studded victors from Russia 2018 roared to life and ran out eventual 4-1 winners – getting their title defence off to an impressive start.
Adelaide United captain Craig Goodwin smashed the ball into the net in the ninth minute from the back post after a sweeping, sensational attacking move.
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But the 2018 champions roared to life, turning the screws and dominating the Australians for the remainder of the match, with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, and Ousmane Dembele tormenting the Socceroos defence – despite spurning a host of golden opportunities.
After midfielder Adrien Rabiot scored France’s first goal in the 27th minute, Giroud quickly handed the heavyweights the lead after an Australian defensive mistake. He would round out the scoring in the 71st minute, just three minutes after Mbappe made it 3-1.
The Socceroos’ desperate defending spared Australia captain Mat Ryan from picking the ball out of the back of the net more often, while the attackers will be wondering what could have been after a couple of close chances of their own, including Jackson Irvine hitting the post just before halftime.
The hope of a Socceroos’ snatch-and-grab win soon became an exercise in damage limitation in the second stanza, with France finishing the match with 23 shots to Australia’s four attempts.
Australia touched the ball just 12 times in France’s penalty area, the fewest ever tallied in a Socceroos’ World Cup game (per Opta).
“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 told SBS he was overjoyed to score, despite his disappointment at the crushing loss.
“It’s almost an indescribable feeling,” he said of the goal. “To score at a World Cup against the champions is something I’ll remember forever.”
Australia next face Tunisia on Saturday night (9pm AEDT) before a meeting with Denmark next Thursday. Those two nations played out a scoreless draw overnight, a result that gives the Socceroos a strong opportunity to make it out of the group stage should Australia claim a win and a draw in the two remaining matches.
France started in blinding fashion, threatening the Australian goal in the opening two minutes as their attacking superstars surged into the box – Socceroos defender Aziz Behich being turned inside out by French winger Ousmane Dembele.
But Australia claimed a stunning lead over the reigning champions with a sizzling attack in just the ninth minute. Centre-back Harry Souttar found veteran winger Mat Leckie on the right flank with a raking ball, with Leckie taking a brilliant first touch past fullback Lucas Hernandez before fizzing in a low cross to the back post, where opposite winger Craig Goodwin blasted the ball into the roof of the net.
It was Australia’s first goal from open play since Tim Cahill’s world-class volley against the Netherlands in 2014.
Hernandez appeared to suffer a knee injury as he collapsed to the ground while chasing Leckie, and was immediately substituted for Theo Hernandez.
France responded with a flurry of attacking play, with the pace and technical ability of the likes of Kylian Mbappe repeatedly causing Socceroos’ defenders problems on the flanks, only to be blocked by the Australians defending in numbers – and putting in crunching tackles across the pitch.
In the 21st minute, Australian striker Mitch Duke let fly from long range after pouncing on a loose ball, his strike rocketing goalwards but flying inches wide of the post.
But the French continued to push forward, pinning the Australians back inside their own area. In the 27th minute, France broke the resolute defence when a corner was headed out of the box. It fell to Hernandez, who floated a pinpoint cross back into the penalty area, finding Adrien Rabiot unmarked in front of goal – with the Juventus star making no mistake with his header.
“The French are completely controlling the game now,” Australian great Harry Kewell said in commentary for SBS.
Just five minutes later, right-back Nathaniel Atkinson coughed up possession in a dangerous position with a poor touch after being passed the ball under pressure, with Mbappe and Rabiot poaching the ball.
With Australian defenders out of position, Rabiot teed up Olivier Giroud with a simple pass, with the unmarked striker tapping home from close range. It was Giroud’s 50th international goal, having not scored in the 2018 World Cup – and only starting due to the absence of the injured Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema.
“The two goals Australia conceded were completely avoidable,” Mark Bosnich told SBS.
Ex-England striker Chris Sutton told the BBC: “Well talk about shooting yourselves in the foot, that is exactly what Australia do. They are careless in possession and Olivier Giroud is not going to miss from there”.
The French grew ever more comfortable, racking up chance after chance, only to spurn a series of golden opportunities as the Socceroos limped to halftime. Giroud blazed over, Griezmann shot wide from outside the box, before Mbappe blasted the ball over the bar from close range off the back of a Antoine Griezmann cross.
But in stoppage time of the first stanza, the Socceroos nearly claimed a shock equaliser as Riley McGree crossed to Jackson Irvine, who headed the ball back across goalkeeper Hugo Lloris – only to rebound off the post.
France again charged out of the blocks in the second half, with Olivier Giroud nearly scoring an acrobatic bicycle kick in the first five minutes.
Socceroos cult hero Jason Cummings was brought on in the 56th minute for fellow forward Mitch Duke, who had ran tirelessly but struggled with a lack of service, and had received a yellow card just before his substitution for a scything tackle on Dembele.
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Mbappe came close to finally increasing France’s advantage when he played a marvellous one-two to burst into the box, before centre-back Kye Rowles denied what seemed a certain goal with a desperate sliding intervention.
But the pressure continued to mount on the Socceroos as France dominated possession, but yet again failed to find the back of the net despite chances piling up – and Aziz Behich making a desperate goal-line clearance to deny Griezmann’s strike.
Finally, with just over 20 minutes to play, the French finally unlocked the Socceroos defence. Mbappe surged into the box, and whipped a dangerous cross across the face of goal but lacked support up front. However, Dembele regained the ball on the other side of the box, and curled it in for Mbappe, who headed home.
“We could see that coming,” Kewell said on SBS.
Mbappe all too easily burst past Atkinson on the flank before racing to the byline and whipping in a perfect cross for Giroud to head home – his 51st international goal equalling Thierry Henry’s France record.
Coach Graham Arnold turned to his bench, bringing on 18-year-old sensation Garang Kuol as one of a barrage of four changes after the goal, with Awer Mabil, Keanu Baccus, and Milos Degenek also coming on.
AS IT HAPPENED – with Liam Fitzgibbon in Doha
Confirmed Australia XI: Ryan – Atkinson, Rowles, Souttar, Behich – Irvine, Mooy, McGree – Leckie, Duke, GoodwiN
Confirmed France XI: Lloris – Pavard, Konate, Upamecano, L. Hernandez – Tchouameni, Rabiot – Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe – Giroud
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