Olivier Giroud equalled Thierry Henry’s France goalscoring record as Les Bleus fought back to begin their World Cup defence with a 4-1 victory over Australia on Tuesday.
Having lost Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba and others to injury during a chaotic build-up to the tournament, France suffered another blow when Craig Goodwin fired Australia into an early lead.
But the holders responded well, with the impressive Adrien Rabiot recording a goal and an assist – the latter for Giroud – during a first-half turnaround.
Kylian Mbappe then made the points safe with a fine glancing header before teeing up Giroud to nod home his landmark 51st goal as France took control of Group D.
Goodwin side-footed Mathew Leckie’s cross into the roof of the net after nine minutes in a dream start for Australia but a quickfire France double turned the game around.
Rabiot contributed to both goals, nodding home Theo Hernandez’s deep cross after 27 minutes before his cut-back allowed Giroud to tap in.
The end of an entertaining first half featured clear chances at both ends, with Mbappe firing over from close range before Jackson Irvine headed against the post.
Giroud went close to a spectacular second when he sent an acrobatic effort wide shortly after the break, while Antoine Griezmann saw a shot cleared off the goalline as France continued to press.
France finally had a deserved third goal after 68 minutes, with Mbappe diverting Ousmane Dembele’s cross in off the post to clinch the win.
Mbappe sent in a fine cross for France’s fourth just three minutes later, but the moment belonged to Giroud as he powered a header beyond Mathew Ryan to earn a slice of Les Bleus history.
What does it mean? Champions make strong start
France approached Tuesday’s match looking to buck the recent trend of slow starts from World Cup holders – the reigning champions had only started with a win at three of the last 12 tournaments (D4 L5).
Given their chaotic preparations and Australia’s early opener, Didier Deschamps may have been fearing the worst, but Les Bleus were ultimately good value for their win, which saw them take control of Group D following Denmark’s draw with Tunisia.
Giroud matches Henry
Had Real Madrid’s Ballon d’Or-winning forward Benzema been fit to feature against the Socceroos, Giroud would likely have been the player to miss out on a place in Deschamps’ team.
However, Giroud – who played a key role in France’s 2018 heroics in Russia – helped himself to a brace to draw level with Henry’s tally of 51 goals for his country, hitting that number in eight fewer caps than the Arsenal great.
Rabiot takes centre stage
Injuries to Pogba and his 2018 World Cup-winning midfield partner N’Golo Kante opened the door for Rabiot to assume a central role in Qatar, and he did not let France down in their Group D opener.
Rabiot took the game by the scruff of the neck before the break, becoming the first France player to both score and assist a goal on his World Cup debut since Christophe Dugarry against South Africa in 1998.
Key Opta Facts:
– France have won five consecutive games at the World Cup, their joint-longest winning run at the tournament, having also won five in a row from 1986 to 1998.
– Australia have lost 11 of their 17 games at the World Cup (65%), the joint-highest ratio by any nation to play 10+ matches at the competition (Saudi Arabia also 65%).
– France were the first reigning champion to win their opening game of a World Cup tournament since Brazil in 2006, while this was the biggest ever MD1 win by a reigning champion to kick-off a World Cup campaign.
– Olivier Giroud scored his 50th and 51st goals for France, levelling Thierry Henry as the nation’s joint-top goalscorer of all-time (51). Aged 36 years and 53 days, he was the second-oldest player to score a brace at the World Cup, after Roger Milla, who netted a brace twice in 1990 for Cameroon while aged 38.
France take on Denmark in their next Group D game on Saturday, while Australia face Tunisia on the same day.
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