World Cup Group C got underway in Sochi on Saturday morning as France looked to demonstrate just why they are being so widely tipped for a long run at this year’s finals.
Australia’s Socceroos stood in the way of the French, as Bert van Marwijk selected a side who looked comfortable with the ball at their feet, despite possessing limited attacking options.
A drab first half ended goalless until contentious decisions flooded a second half full of action. A VAR awarded penalty gifted Antoine Griezmann and France the opening goal inside 58 minutes, with Australia drawing level just four minutes later thanks to a bizarre handball from Samuel Umtiti.
Mile Jedinak converted the subsequent penalty as the game sprung to life.
The 80th-minute proved decisive in the fixture. Paul Pogba latched onto a through ball from Olivier Giroud, lifting the ball against the underside of the bar, crossing the line with millimetres to spare. On closer inspection, Aziz Behich appeared to get the final touch on the ball to add to Australia’s World Cup woes.
France took all three points and Australia were left reeling in a competitive Group C.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
1 Whisper it, but VAR is working
VAR has been a huge concern coming into the World Cup.
Would it work? Was it necessary? Does anyone actually understand it? We got answers to at least two of those questions on Saturday afternoon as Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha referred a potential trip on Griezmann to his team of officials in Moscow.
This referral showed Josh Risdon to make zero contact with the ball, sending the French striker tumbling to the ground after a small clip of the heel. A penalty was awarded - to the befuddlement of commentator Mark Lawrenson - and France took a 1-0 lead.
Now, this wasn't clear-cut. However, by using the slow-motion cameras and added time to assess the situation, it's fair to say that the correct decision was made.
Once the creases have been ironed out of the VAR process, perhaps we will appreciate the certainty that the technology will bring to the game.
2 Giroud needs to be utilised
It's no secret that Didier Deschamps is a big admirer of Olivier Giroud.
Not starting him against Australia made sense: it's hard to argue the point of leaving one of the mouth-watering trio of Kylian Mbappe, Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele on the bench, however, not changing their system of attack when the big Frenchman came on was a reason of concern.
Hustling defenders and picking the ball out of the sky are two of Giroud's greatest assets.
Fine, he also has great feet, but to not use Giroud in a more direct role when he came off the bench was a questionable tactic from Les Bleus.
Although his assist did come from the ground, if we are to see Giroud at his best at this World Cup, using his athletic frame will be a catalyst to success.
3 Don't sleep on Australia's chances
Contesting a plethora of matches against a who’s who of Asian football, the
Socceroos advanced to Russia after a tightly contested playoff with Syria, as
they edged the 74th ranked side out in extra time.
This underwhelming qualification set low expectations for Australia's trip to Russia this summer, however, showing glimpses of attacking instincts and confidence on the ball, Bert van Marwijk's side could well escape a tricky Group C.
Peru and Denmark stand in their way, but after mixing it with one of the favourites for the trophy, the fans Down Under shouldn't fear any opposition. Four points could well confirm a venture into the knockout rounds.
4 Kante will be crucial for France's success
France seemed reluctant to press the Australian defence into making errors, allowing the Socceroos midfield to use the ball well progressing up the pitch.
A tactic, perhaps, from Deschamps to allow the rapid French forward-line to catch Australia on the counter-attack. If this is repeated, then the role of N'Golo Kante will be crucial in winning the ball back for Les Bleus, recycling it, and starting a wave of French attack.
Kante has perfected his role at the base of any midfield he plays in. However, his role is only as effective as the players he can supply.
5 Matuidi vs Tolisso
Criticism from the French press surrounded the selection of Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso ahead of Juventus' Blaise Matuidi.
Sources within the camp alluded to Deschamps believing Tolisso's technical ability would be more useful against Australia than Matuidi's work rate and attacking instincts.
Other than getting booked for a cynical foul, Tolisso struggled to influence the game, with calls for Matuidi to enter as a substitute way before he did in the 78th-minute.
It's a clear headache for the French coach; one that may change based on the strengths of future opponents. If Deschamps is reactionary in this approach it may prove fruitful, however, it appears he remains split on the best solution.
What did you learn from this game? Let us know in the comments below...
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?