WAKRAH, Qatar — France began play here with the world’s most talented injured list, the curse of the defending champion, its history of World Cup implosion following upon World Cup success, its frequent bouquet of imaginative scandals and an early 1-0 deficit to Australia in its opening match.
France wins looking very much like France, and also unlike France
Its 4-1 win over the Socceroos on Tuesday night filled Al Janoub Stadium with gasps over the French art on display. The four French goals did achieve loveliness, as did the umpteen French near-goals. France still made Australian goalkeeper Mathew Ryan lunge and lurch in so many ways he’d rather not. It still had running around one of the best players anybody ever saw, Kylian Mbappé, as well as a ludicrous amount of other talent and a 36-year-old Olivier Giroud running around scoring two goals.
It still looked like a bunch of somebodies who will get out of this Group D with Australia, Denmark and Tunisia, could serve as pure hell in the knockout phase — no champion has repeated since 1962 — and might even find inspiration from inconvenience.
It had to get here without two players anyone would covet — the injured Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante — and then bid adieu for now to another, Karim Benzema, who withdrew this past Saturday with a torn muscle. It had Lucas Hernandez go off early after a tangle along the route to the Australian goal that jolted the place after nine minutes. Superstitious onlookers might have thought of 2002, when defending champion France opened with a 1-0 loss to Senegal and couldn’t get out of the group stage, or 2010, when defending runner-up France opened with a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, lost to Mexico and South Africa and couldn’t get out of the group.
Oddly, those things have nothing to do with 2022.
For after Australian defender Harry Souttar sent a long ball to Mathew Leckie on the right, and after Leckie untangled himself with Hernandez and kept the ball, and after Leckie crossed to Craig Goodwin who smashed it in off the underside of the roof for a 1-0 lead, France happened.
France happened a lot.
On 27 minutes, after a French corner kick reached the box and bounced out, Hernandez’s replacement, Theo Hernandez, sent it back in as if it knew precisely the way to Adrien Rabiot’s head. Rabiot, slightly to the right of center in front of the goal, headed it in toward the left.
On 31 minutes, Mbappe and Rabiot managed to get the ball away from Nathaniel Atkinson, so that Mbappe could back-foot it in a blur to Rabiot, and Rabiot could move to the left of the box and cross to the front to Giroud, who eased it into the net.
On 68 minutes, just after a frenzy where Australian defender Mitch Duke had to save one headed for another goal, another frenzy turned up with Mbappe making thunder on the left. He sent a ball rolling across the front of the goal and through the box, where Ousmane Dembélé got it. Dembélé crossed it back to the middle, where Mbappe rose amid two defenders and headed it to the left post, where it caromed in.
And on 71 minutes, Mbappe made another drive, dancing through the left and sending a curling cross headed in by Giroud.
France had looked like France, and also unlike France.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
World Cup in Qatar
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Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they were refused entry into World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the emblem.
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