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The French celebrate Olivier Giroud’s (l) goal to 4-1 against Australia. © Tom Weller/dpa

Defending champions France started the World Cup with a befitting victory. Everything started badly in the 4-1 win against Australia.

Al-Wakra – A clear victory in the fight against the world champion curse – and that despite an early double shock: Defending champions 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) yesterday against Australia, the already injured French had to accept the next failure – and that is also very bad news for FC Bayern: Because it was Munich left-back Lucas Hernández, who had already seriously injured after eight minutes. As the French association announced in the night, he suffered a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

France’s predecessors as world champions – Italy, Spain and most recently Germany – were all eliminated in the preliminary round after their triumph. The French also seemed threatened with a false start when Craig Goodwin gave the Australians the lead in their fifth appearance at the World Cup in a row (9th). But Adrien Rabiot (27′) and Olivier Giroud (32′), replacing injured Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, turned the game around before the break. Kylian Mbappé (68th) and Giroud again (71st) followed suit. With his 51st international goal, the double goalscorer joined Thierry Henry as France’s record goalscorer.

Beatles classics on repeat

“The way it started, we can be satisfied in the end. There’s still room for improvement. But we reacted quickly and were efficient in all cases,” said Giroud. “I just hope Lucas isn’t more seriously injured. We’re dedicating this game to him.” Fans paid homage to Giroud by chanting his name on a loop to the tune of the Beatles’ classic Hey Jude.

The French also managed an opening win against the Australians at the World Cup coup four years ago. Back then, they only beat the team from Down Under 2-1.

In N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Presnel Kimpembe, Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku and Benzema, five top performers from 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 Hernández defended with ex-Leipziger Ibrahima Konaté, who now plays for Liverpool FC.

But for the 3,300 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. To make matters worse, Hernández had injured himself while lunging and had to leave the field after almost five minutes of treatment. His brother Theo came for him. “The energy was there. We knew that we could make a difference, but that’s where we reached our limits,” said Leckie.

Lucky in the 22nd minute

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.

Adrien Rabiot (l) scored the 1-1 equalizer with his head. © Tom Weller/dpa

The game was turned just five minutes later: Rabiot conquered the ball against insecure Australians, 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.

Australia leads
The Australian players celebrate Craig Goodwin’s (l) goal to make it 1-0. © Tom Weller/dpa

The French actually 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 side FC St. Pauli headed the post in added time in the first half. After the break, the French then 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 hit a cross from ex-Dortmund Ousmane Dembélé with a head and four minutes later Giroud gave the next header. dpa

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