The World Cup France had in mind was this one. Qatar as well
The Qatari-owned Paris St. Germain does not invest in Kylian Mbappe without having a larger goal in mind than winning another French championship. They did it for this reason. They desired that the finest player from Qatar’s World Cup be closely tied with the nation. They were not going to allow Real Madrid to take him away for the World Cup.
On Tuesday night, France defeated Australia 4-1 thanks to two goals from Olivier Giroud.
Mbappe delivered last night, both for his nation and his hosts. With Mbappe scoring his third goal and making another in the second half, the world champions easily defeated an outmatched Australia team. He was the player that Australia could not control.
Many people will find it difficult to control his pace and his direct running from a distance towards the destination. In the round of eight, England will play France, and if they were to take comfort from a wave of French injuries, it would have been a mistake. This country has enormous depth and strength.
Olivier Giroud scored twice to tie Thierry Henry’s record-setting 51 goals for his country, giving France a new joint best scorer. Also, he could have had more. The score indicates that France rapidly turned the situation around after falling behind early. With more proficient finishing, they might have reached six like England did.
Four is still a solid start, and the strikers have shown they can function without the Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema with two goals each for Giroud and Mbappe. No issue. And unlike Argentina’s match with Saudi Arabia, they made the most of their advantage.
After 68 minutes, Mbappe eliminated Australia from the game. He started out by sending in a low cross into the box, which was not picked up by anyone and ultimately fell to Ousmane Dembele on the right. His patience paid off when he spotted the opportunity and returned the ball to Mbappe, but high enough for him to head the ball past Matt Ryan in the Australian goal. Giroud quickly matched the easiest cross from Mbappe to tie Henry’s record.
What an occasion for him to be 36. The sincerity of his teammates’ jubilation revealed how highly they esteem him.
This was certainly an improvement on the last campaign in which France defended the World Cup. Back in 2002, not only did they exit at the group stage, they didn’t even score. And while an early Australian goal caused no little trepidation, by half-time the reigning champions were a goal up and coasting. There were even sporadic outbreaks of showboating from Kylian Mbappe which, while somewhat presumptuous, demonstrated France’s level of control. They will miss their many absentees later in the tournament but had Australia well in hand, Graham Arnold’s team is plucky, but little more and there was a distinct element of having poked a hornets nest with a stick about their first goal.
It came after just nine minutes. Harry Souttar, of Stoke, played a raking ball to Matthew Leckie on the right and he got the better of Bayern Munich’s Lucas Hernandez to play a lovely cross into the box. It was met by Adelaide United’s Craig Goodwin, and lashed into the roof of the net. His only other international goal came against Vietnam. It’s fair to say this was an upgrade.
Australia were off and celebrating but on the other side of the pitch Hernandez lay, stricken. He had turned a knee trying to stop the sprinting Leckie and would play no further part in the game, and perhaps the tournament. France’s injury curse had struck again. Many minutes of treatment saw no improvement. His brother, Theo, was his replacement. Whether that softens the blow, who can say?
It was certainly a difficult introduction for Hernandez Junior. In the 21st minute, he almost cost France dearly, losing the ball cheaply in midfield and allowing Mitch Duke to strike a thunderous shot from 30 yards that flew just wide of Hugo Lloris’s post. This was Australia’s best spell, when Antoine Griezmann was shirking his midfield duties and allowing Aaron Mooy to run the show. It wasn’t going to last forever, and did not. France came back into the match, largely through the stunning pace of Kylian Mbappe which always had Australia at full stretch.
Yet it was the anti-hero of this French team, not its shining light, that got Didier Deschamps team back into the game. Four years ago, in Russia, Adrien Rabiot was an outcast after refusing to go on standby for the World Cup, which France duly won. Rehabilitated against expectations by Deschamps, he levelled the scoring here, his second goal in three games, having scored one in his previous 27. A corner was cleared only to be recycled smartly by Hernandez and Rabiot lost his markers to steer a powerful header past Australian goalkeeper Matthew Ryan, once of Brighton, now of Copenhagen.
Minutes later Olivier Giroud steered a header over but now France sensed their opportunity. When Australia made a misguided attempt to play from the back, they pounced. The high press did the trick, the ball never really under control from the moment Ryan played it out. Mbappe’s pace led to several skittish passes, the ball ending up with Griezmann who slipped it across for Giroud to finish into what was close to an empty net such was Australia’s disarray at the back. It was Giroud’s 50th goal for his country, leaving him one behind the record held by Thierry Henry.
And what a way it would have been to equal that milestone had a spectacular overhead kick from Hernandez’s cross come off after 49 minutes. It flew just wide of Ryan’s far post. Giroud still smiled about it though, as he always does. Mbappe also wore a rueful expression just before half-time when he put Griezmann’s cross over the bar with Ryan again struggling to recover his position.
Not that Australia were entirely done. From the last attack of the first-half, a header from Jackson Irvine – playing in Germany’s second tier with St Pauli – struck Lloris’s far post with the goalkeeper nowhere. It served as a warning, on the day Lionel Messi and Argentina fell to arguably the biggest World Cup shock in history.