Ein clear victory in the fight against the world champion curse – and that despite an early setback: defending champion France made a successful start to the World Cup in Qatar and after initial problems also shone at times. In the ultimately clear 4: 1 (2: 1) against Australia on Tuesday, the already injured French had to accept the next failure – and that could also be very bad news for FC Bayern: Because it was Munich left-back Lucas Hernández who injured himself after just eight minutes.
France’s predecessors as world champions – Italy, Spain and most recently Germany – were all eliminated in the preliminary round after their triumph. The curse also seemed to threaten the French when Craig Goodwin had given the Australians an early lead (9′). But Adrien Rabiot (27′) and Olivier Giroud, replacing injured Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema (32′), turned the game around before the break. Kylian Mbappé (68th) and Giroud again followed suit (71st). His 51st international goal saw him join Thierry Henry as France’s record goalscorer. “The start was not happy, there is room for improvement, we have to get into the game faster,” warned the double goal scorer, “but we can only be happy with the outcome. It’s very good for the mood.”
Fans paid homage to Giroud by chanting his name on a loop to the tune of the Beatles classic “Hey Jude.” An opening win against the Australians is a good omen for the French. They also started with a win against the team from Down Under at the World Cup coup four years ago, but only 2-1 at the time.
In N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Presnel Kimpembe, Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku and Benzema, five top performers for the French were out before the tournament. The starting eleven was still prominent. Three quarters of the defensive line consisted of FC Bayern players: Benjamin Pavard, Dayot Upamecano and Lucas Hernández defended with former Leipzig player Ibrahima Konaté, who now plays for Liverpool FC.
For the French fans among the 40,875 spectators, the game began with a double shock: Long-time Bundesliga professional Mathew Leckie missed Hernández and served Goodwin, the 30-year-old scored his third international goal. Hernández was injured while lunging and had to leave the field after almost five minutes of treatment. His brother Theo came for him.
The French took a while to recover from that opener and were lucky in the 22nd minute when Mitchell Duke fired a little too high from just under 20 meters out. And then they unexpectedly equalized at that point, when Rabiot headed in a cross from Theo Hernández unhindered. The game was turned just five minutes later: Rabiot captured the ball against the Australians, who were unsure in the build-up game, got it back from Mbappé with a hoe and served Giroud. The 36-year-old had not scored at the World Cup four years ago, despite playing in every game. But even then he was an important element with his diligence and team spirit.
The French now had the control of the game they had hoped for from the start. It was also fortunate that they went into the dressing room with an lead, however, as Australia’s Jackson Irvine of second division club FC St. Pauli headed against the post in added time in the first half.
After the break, the French finally had everything under control. Giroud, who narrowly missed a side kick (50′) and Antoine Griezmann, whose shot hit Aziz Behich off the line (65′), were unlucky at first. But then Mbappé headed in after a cross from former Dortmund player Ousmane Dembélé and four minutes later gave Giroud the next header.