“down under”, as Australia is called in English. For twenty-five minutes, the French paid tribute to their opponent by being “below” the stakes for their return to the World Cup, four years after their Russian coronation.
Tuesday, November 22, at the Al Janoub stadium in Al Wakra, a town south of Doha, the France team found the necessary resources to reverse a delicate situation – led 1-0 – and enforce the hierarchy. The world champions won 4-1. Earlier in the afternoon, the Danes and the Tunisians had neutralized each other (0-0), which allows the teammates of captain Hugo Lloris to take the lead in group D alone.
But the start of this repeat of 2018 – the two teams had also faced each other on entering Russia for a narrow 2-1 success for France – was particularly laborious. Arranged in 4-2-3-1, the players of Didier Deschamps seemed at first disoriented, like orphans of Karim Benzema, Paul Pobga and N’Golo Kanté, all packages through injury for this competition. Not to mention the presence of another taulier on the bench, defender Raphaël Varane, who is in the recovery phase after a muscle tear.
From the 9e minute of play, a simple cross from defender Harry Soutar towards his right wing allowed Mathew Leckie to take the French defense from behind. The latter got rid of Lucas Hernandez, who injured his right knee on the action. Leckie’s cross was deflected by Adrien Rabiot and the ball went straight to the far post, where Craig Goodwin took it back in force to send it under Lloris’ crossbar (1-0). The striker had been left strangely alone by the right defender, Benjamin Pavard.
One Hernandez replaces another
The Blues were then led from the start and the worst scenarios were already fomented, as they seemed so absent and disembodied. A Hernandez brother – Theo – replaced another – Lucas – and this early and forced change was in the direction of a more attacking team.
But before they woke up, the Tricolores were still jostled. Like Aurélien Tchouaméni, who carries on his shoulders as a 22-year-old young man the responsibility of being the boss of the blue midfielder. The Madrilenian experienced a muscular baptism for his debut in the World Cup, in particular when the Australian player with the ponytail Jackson Irvine tackled him unceremoniously.
The commitment was clearly on the Socceroos side. And the France team multiplied the approximations: one shot Adrien Rabiot, another Antoine Griezmann… Faced with these difficulties, attitudes were more annoyance and gestures of bad humor between teammates than solidarity.
At the 22e minute, it was Théo Hernandez’s turn to lose an easy ball in defense, due to careless side ball handling. Striker Mitch Duke took the opportunity to deliver a detonating strike that shaved the skylight of Lloris. Kylian Mbappé wanted to put on his favorite costume, that of savior. Not the most appropriate, because it sometimes pushes the Parisian to force his actions too much. In his defense, he was one of the few to put a little intensity in his actions.
When we least expected it, Deschamps’ men managed to put their heads back in place. A first class collective action was enough to return to the meeting. Not very good until then, Rabiot headed a magnificent cross from Théo Hernandez, left quite quiet by the athletic Australian defense (27e1-1).
Reinvigorated, the Blues each in turn finally entered the scene. It was time. Discreet during this first half hour of play, Olivier Giroud signaled himself with an off target header. No regrets for the Milan striker, since he was clearly offside, even without the help of the new semi-automatic tool for detecting illicit positions.
The Milan striker was offered a second chance. On a short and daring kick-start – surely too much – goalkeeper Mathew Ryan endangered his defender. Rabiot, again, pressed, Mbappé recovered the ball, heeled for the Turinese, who centered back for the third thief. At six meters, Giroud only had to score his team’s second goal (32e, 2-1). And already a goal more than at the last World Cup for the ex-replacement of Benzema, who finds himself at the forefront of the French attack thanks to the injury of the Ballon d’Or 2022.
The France team seemed to come out of its lethargy. A hot alert then acted as a reminder, fortunately without consequence. Pavard, hardly reassuring, let his vis-à-vis center. Irvine missed the equalizer by nothing, his recovery of the head slowly hit the post of Lloris (45th). A simple and short fright. And, definitely back in the right direction, the world champions outclassed Australia in the second period.
A “zlatanerie” – or a “papinade” – a little missed by Giroud fell just short of the frame (50e). Then, an Australian defender saved in extremis a good recovery from Antoine Griezmann (67e), who can and who will have to do better in the next matches. A minute later, Ousmane Dembele also woke up. The Barcelonan sent a nice cross for the head of Mbappé, yet not his specialty (68e, 3-1). It’s worth measuring 1.85m and 1.98m – sizes of the central hinge of the Australian team – to give so much freedom to the French striker, author of the third liberating goal.
The French waves intensified and the Australians, overwhelmed, struggled to assume their reputation as surfers. On a superb cross from Mbappé, Olivier Giroud scored twice (71e, 4-1), from the head, his lethal weapon. Thanks to its 51e goal in the blue jersey, he equals Thierry Henry’s record in the France team. The end of the match was an opportunity to bring in a few substitutes: Kingsley Coman, Youssouf Fofana, Marcus Thuram and Jules Kounde.
After showing two radically different faces, the French team made a success of its entry into the running in Qatar. This great success, coupled with the draw between Denmark and Tunisia, even allows him to dispel some of the fears that have accompanied the defending champion for three editions of the World Cup. In 2010, 2014 and 2018, France, Spain and Germany were eliminated in the first round. This gloomy prospect is already moving away a little for the Blues, especially in the event of a good result, Saturday, November 26 against the Danes.