Allez les bleus! France fans can raise a celebratory glass (or five) because they beat Australia 2-1 in their first match of the 2018 World Cup on Saturday.
In blue jerseys and white shorts, les Bleus took the field. In the first six minutes, forwards Kylian MBappé, Paul Pogba, and Antoine Griezmann all made their way down the field with the ball, giving Australia a scare. Australian wingback fouled defender Lucas Hernandez, getting the first yellow card of the game. The Socceroos took their first shot on goal at 17′ but France’s reliable goalie Hugo Lloris swatted the ball away. Coach Didier Deschamps spent the first half flailing, not in his coaching or decision-making — though France certainly should have scored in the first half — but because he believed France should have scored in the first half and was upset at the calls on the field.
The star of the second half was really V.A.R. (video assistant referee), a new video play review system FIFA implemented in an effort to stop the game-altering incorrect calls by refs of years previous. At 54’, as Griezmann was driving forward with the ball, he was cut down by Josh Risdon in Australia’s box. The move was not egregious, but it was enough to be a foul. The Uruguayan referee, Andres Cunha, however, did not think it merited a yellow card. With V.R.A. on the sidelines, Cunha chose to review the moment again, and awarded Griezmann the penalty. At the 58’, Griezmann scored the first goal of the game, giving France a 1-0 lead.
The French excitement was quickly cut short. Five minutes later, defender Samuel Umtiti made a foolish mistake. He was in the box jumping to header the ball when he inexplicably put his hands up and swatted it away. It was an uncharacteristic mistake from one of the best defenders in the world. On the awarded penalty, Mile Jedinak scored for Australia at 62’, with goalie Lloris in the net.
France continued to create good chances for themselves to score, keeping Australia on the back leg, but they couldn’t seem to make anything happen. In Coach Deschamps’ best move, he brought on subs: forward Oliver Giroud for Griezmann, and forward Nabil Fekir for Dembélé (and starting forward Mbappé stayed on). None of Deschamps’ starting players are particularly good at hold-up play, where forwards retain the ball while rest of the team comes forward to attack. Then, once your teammates are behind you, the forwards carry the ball further down the field. The two oncoming players were subbed in to change the formation and provide greater control of the midfield; Giroud crosses into the box for headers often and is a good hold-up player, and Fekir is a reliable attacking midfielder.
The switch proved successful, because midfielder Paul Pogba scored at 80’. The play was beautiful: Pogba came from deep, passed off to Giroud, kept running, and when the ball came back to him, he lifted it right into the goal. The V.A.R. goal-line tech came in handy again, giving Pogba the goal and France a 2-1 lead.
In the five minutes of stoppage time, Austrailia had a chance here and there to tie the game, and France had a few to take a greater lead, but neither team capitalized. The game ended, France 2, Australia 1.
Making World Cup History: Today, Kylian Mbappé became the youngest player to represent France at the World Cup, at just 19 years and 178 days.