France hammer Australia 4-1 to show they are still team to beat even without missing stars

Defending champions launch World Cup campaign with easy Group D victory as Mbappe and Giroud dazzle

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The world champions, shaken by injury and shorn of premium players, are up and running regardless.

On Tuesday, France began the defence of the crown they captured in the Moscow rain four and a half years ago, reeling still from a host of absentees to their 2022 crew, but then moved through the gears to see off Australia.

Perhaps they were stunned into action at Al Janoub Stadium. For Australia, to the surprise of many, scored first.

On nine minutes, Mathew Leckie squared across the French penalty area for Craig Goodwin to convert high beyond opposing captain Hugo Lloris.

Coming on the same day that Saudi Arabia upset Argentina with a victory for the ages, surely lightning could not strike twice? It didn’t.

Clearly keen to avoid a similar embarrassment, France hit back, twice in five minutes, either side of the half hour.

Substitute Theo Hernandez – his brother Lucas Hernandez looked to have badly injured his knee and could not continue – crossed perfectly for Adrien Rabiot, who headed home.

Rabiot, maybe in the side only because N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba had fitness issues and did not make the squad, then became the provider.

Nathaniel Atkinson was robbed of possession on the Australia right, Kylian Mbappe flicked to Rabiot, who rolled across the ball for Olivier Giroud to tap home.

It was his 50th international goal; one behind France's all-time leading goalscorer, Thierry Henry.

In first-half injury time, Mbappe should have made it three, but with the goal gaping, uncharacteristically failed to prod home Antoine Griezmann’s centre.

Then, Australia struck the woodwork, with McGree crossing to Jackson Irvine, whose awkwardly executed header glanced off the upright.

It was as close as Graham Arnold’s men would get. After the break Mbappe turned on the afterburners. Having begun to torment his rivals, on 68 minutes the forward found his way through.

The Paris Saint-Germain star, stationed on the left, had flashed a cross-cum-shot over to the opposite flank, but stayed alive to meet Ousmane Dembele’s inch-perfect cross and head home.

Now heavily involved in seemingly everything, it was Mbappe’s delightful cross that have Giroud a gift to pull level with Henry.

The towering AC Milan striker obliged, powering his header beyond Mat Ryan in the Australia goal. Ryan and teammates still had at least 19 minutes to survive.

They were grateful, then, that Mbappe miscontrolled when he played in, and that Didier Deschamps withdrew Giroud shortly before the end, despite him being on a hat-trick.

And they were grateful to Ryan, who saved excellently from Ibrahima Konate.

France had to settle for four, just as they did in the rain in Moscow in 2018.

Tellingly, they showed they are more than Kante and Pogba, Presnel Kimpembe, Christopher Nkunku and Karim Benzema – the recent Ballon d’Or winner. Much more, in fact.

Even if Australia were poor. And especially, because the world champions have Mbappe.

Updated: November 23, 2022, 5:22 AM
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