Olivier Giroud scored twice to go level with Thierry Henry as France’s record all-time scorer and Kylian Mbappe helped torment Australia’s defense in a 4-1 victory for the reigning champions.
Didier Deschamps was without his first-choice centre-forward after Karim Benzema withdrew with a thigh injury on the eve of the tournament but France looked lethal in attack at times, with Giroud, Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann combining well.
Australia took the lead through Craig Goodwin early on but France hit back with two quick-fire doubles either side of half-time.
Dominic Fifield, Liam Tharme and Jacob Tanswell analyze the key talking points from France’s emphatic win at the Al Janoub Stadium…
Giroud equals Henry’s France record
Fifield: The French had been lamenting the loss of Ballon d’Or holder Benzema in the build-up but there was something reassuring about the presence of Giroud in their starting line-up. While the core of that team from their successful World Cup campaign has fallen away, the veteran’s combination with Mbappe and Griezmann was a welcome throwback to 2018. And, by the end of the night, the French boasted the nation’s joint record goalscorer in their number .
The trio know how to thrive together. Giroud rarely attracts the limelight, but he quietly pins his centre-back, all clever movement and flashes of canny aggression and strength, while those with flair — Mbappe, Griezmann, Dembele — conjure their tricks, flicks and surging runs. They know the 36-year-old’s runs well enough by now. It was no surprise when Mbappe’s cross was met emphatically by Giroud 18 minutes from time, his header planted beyond the exposed Mathew Ryan.
That was the goal that thrust him up alongside Henry, with 51, as France’s joint top scorer. His 115th cap had been decorated by a first-half tap-in, converting Adrien Rabiot’s pass into an empty net. The record could be Giroud’s alone by the time the tournament peters out. No doubt, even if he does, the focus will still remain on glitzier and more glamorous names in this side.
The elder statesman will not mind. He did not score in 2018, but he knows he belongs in this company. Giroud is integral to how Deschamps’ team plays, a forward pivot around whom Mbappe et al can have their fun. His presence is a source of French comfort.
France’s asymmetric 4-2-3-1 works
Thermal: “We will have to defend well, defend better, not at the expense of our attacking intent, but if I choose this formation (4-2-3-1) I feel we can do both,” Deschamps said after selecting his squad for Qatar.
An injury-free Benzema would have led the line but Giroud as the No 9 brought out some of the best in France. In their trademark fashion they did their damage in spells rather than sustaining an attacking threat — two goals in five minutes in the first half swung the balance of the tie and they scored two more in three minutes in the second half to kill the game.
— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) November 22, 2022
After 45 minutes they had 2.2 non-penalty xG, the highest of any team in any game at the tournament, and with half of the match still to play. Giroud’s first goal was a typical incisive, slick French combination. They had more moves like that in the second half that didn’t produce goals, but they were purring as a forward unit.
It was notable that Deschamps had them attack in a deliberately unbalanced fashion, having right-back Benjamin Pavard narrow to keep a passing angle open for the right winger Dembele. On the opposite side Theo Hernandez, on as a substitute for his injured brother Lucas, was positioned high and wide with central midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni filling his space at left-back.
Australia’s fast start and how it unraveled
Tanswell: Australia set up in a 4-1-4-1 system with the two wingers tracking back in efforts to avoid France’s two speedy forwards, Mbappe and Dembele, from isolating their full-backs one-v-one.
From the outset, Australia aimed to regulate the tempo and were composed in possession, made easier by France hardly being the most enthusiastic of pressing teams. Aaron Mooy was a regular outlet and played through the thirds, while Stoke City centre-back Harry Souttar played forward with quality, illustrated in his raking diagonal pass to Mathew Leckie for the Goodwin goal that gave them a surprise lead.
Australia’s initial schemes were disrupted once France went through the gears. Theo Hernandez started to take up positions high and wide down the left, enabling Mbappe to drift inwards and closer to Giroud, who began occupying Australia’s inexperienced centre-backs. Their disorganization became apparent in Rabiot’s equalizer, having failed to track the Frenchman’s run from the second phase of a set piece.
Rabiot shines in Pogba and Kante-less midfield
Thermal: They went into the tournament with plenty of absentees but injuries to N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba — their double pivot four years ago when they won the tournament — was the biggest area of concern for Deschamps.
He reverted to the 4-2-3-1 that brought them success in Russia, with the 22-year-old Tchouameni and Rabiot the midfield partnership. The former had a quieter half, often the deepest of the pairing and neatly circulating possession.
But Rabiot doesn’t do quiet. Many will remember him demanding to be removed from the standby list four years ago, but the Juventus central midfielder made an impact on his World Cup debut.
1 – Adrien Rabiot is the first France player to both score and assist a goal on his World Cup debut since Christophe Dugarry against South Africa in June 1998. Rebellion. #FRAAUS pic.twitter.com/yt3v5dZ1gI
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) November 22, 2022
He leveled the game with a well-placed header from Theo Hernandez’s cross for just his third international goal.
His assist was more Rabiot’s trademark — France pressed high and he forced Australia right-back Nathaniel Atkinson into an error. Mbappe’s backheel then found Rabiot, who cut the ball back for Giroud to put France ahead.
Theo Hernandez helped France dominate the left-hand side
Tanswell: The injury to Lucas Hernandez directly before Australia’s goal led to the introduction of his brother, Theo, who is a naturally more attack-minded left-back. This caused overloads down Australia’s right almost instantly, with Hernandez overlapping Mbappe and cranking up the pressure on right-back Atkinson.
Giroud’s first goal came through a rare concerted France press, with Atkinson getting dispossessed and the right centre-back Souttar not in a position to cover.
By the hour mark, Mbappe (seven) and Hernandez (five) had attempted 12 crosses between them as France were able to circumvent attacks by going around Australia’s shape.
Mbappe scored France’s third having drifted into the box following another one of his crosses moments before. He did eventually set one up, though, driving to the byline and — yep, another cross — standing the ball up for Giroud to head home.
It came to tell the story of the game after Australia’s opener.
After pre-tournament drama, France remains a team to fear
Fifield: The French became only the third nation to start the defense of the World Cup with a victory – hard fought but ultimately convincing – particularly timely given the traumas of recent weeks. After all the off-field problems that had served to unsettle, and the troubling drip-feed of injuries which have stripped Deschamps’ squad of so much pedigree, an early success even against a side placed 38 in the world in FIFA’s latest rankings will have calmed some of the nerves.
There were reminders of the quality of France’s attacking resources, not that the world needed nudging that Mbappe is a force of nature. There was an inevitability that he would open his account, leaping to outjump the 6ft 7in Souttar and nod in his team’s third. Giroud is firing. Dembele was irrepressible at times. Griezmann was quietly efficient. His time will come.
Yet, perhaps more significantly, their youngsters will have benefited from this experience, from Tchouameni in midfield to a centre-back pairing in Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate, a fledgling partnership who began the evening with nine caps between them. They weathered what Australia flung at them, and eventually imposed themselves. They will be stronger still next time out.
There will be sterner tests to come in the group, starting with Saturday’s meeting with Denmark — their nemesis in the recent UEFA Nations League. But France arrived in Qatar with plenty anticipating one of their trademark implosions. That script looks more improbable now.
(Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)