“It was complicated today,” breathed an exhausted Didier Deschamps.
Not half. The France manager had just watched his players scrape to a 2-1 victory against a plucky Australia, a result that enjoyed the tournament’s first use of VAR technology.
Referee Andres Cunha adjudged Joshua Risdon’s foot to have clipped the escaping Antoine Griezmann, whose converted penalty combined with a deflected Paul Pogba strike to give Les Bleus a sketchy win.
It was hardly the start they wanted. The question is: how does the result bode for the rest of their tournament?
“We did the job,” Deschamps insited after the game. “But we can do better, do a lot better.”
From the off, France were sluggish in Kazan, struggling to compete with the manful Socceroos. A draw was probably the right result given the favourites’ inability to offer any kind of incision.
It wasn’t the kind of performance to lend weight to their ‘favourites’ tag. Before the tournament, Paul Pogba had insisted that it was time for him to “be the boss of this team”.
In fairness, he was at the centre of everything positive that France did in Tartarstan, playing the pass from which France won a penalty before forcing a deflected winner.
It was Pogba's teammates, this time, who didn’t perform.
Samuel Umtiti was the main culprit with his quite ridiculous handball allowing Bert van Marwijk’s side to equalise.
The full backs, however, offered precious little too. What Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard lack in experience, they make up for in hype but neither delivered against an Australia team that was set up to frustrate.
Even the normally reliable Corentin Tolisso misfired, sulking through a sorrowful display in the centre of the park.
Curb your criticism
As recriminations are cast in Paris, however, Les Bleus supporters would do well to temper their criticisms.
This is a French team that, whilst never really hitting the heights under Deschamps’ overly cautious regime, have the talent to progress deep into the competition.
Australia, ostensibly the weakest side in Group C, may yet serve as a wake-up call before more testing games against Peru and Denmark to come.
If France were to register the kind of hapless display against those sides that they did on Saturday, they could be facing up to their worst embarrassment since Knysna.
The hope will be that this blip will prove to be just that: a blip.
You just need to win
The performance of Olivier Giroud augurs for his inclusion in the starting line-up. Nabil Fékir, too, offered a promising cameo from the bench.
Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé were given short shrift in attack, so Deschamps should include physical Chelsea striker in order to force his lumbering threat against a Peru defence with no 6-footed players.
A neurotic side at the best of times, France should shrug off the draw in Kazan before it threatens to derail what remains their best chance at a trophy since 2006.
Deschamps is the perfect man to rally his troops, a resolute flattener of egos and wily disciplinarian.
You don’t need to win pretty to win a World Cup. You just need to win.
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