Veteran striker Olivier Giroud made history for France as they overcame an early scare to trounce Australia 4-1 for a perfect start into their World Cup title defence on Tuesday.
Giroud, 36, scored a brace to join Thierry Henry on a record 51 France goals, while Adrien Rabiot and superstar Kylian Mbappe got the others for the 2018 champions after Australia had taken an early surprise lead from Craig Goodwin.
France gained early control in Group D where Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark were earlier in the day held to the tournament’s first 0-0 draw by stubborn Tunisia.
Victory was sweet for Les Bleus who want to end a curse for the title holders after the previous three champions Italy, Spain and Germany had gone out in the group stage of the next tournament.
So had France themselves in 2002 as 1998 winners, and their worst fears seemed to come true nine minutes into the game when Goodwin fired the Socceroos ahead into the roof of the net at the far post off Matthew Leckie’s cross.
It added to Les Bleus’ woes that defender Lucas Hernandez injured himself trying to stop Leckie and limped off with what coach Didier Deschamps later named a “pretty serious” injury – the latest casualty for the team already without midfielders N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba as well as forwards Karim Benzema and Christopher Nkunku in Qatar.
But France turned the match around within five minutes when in the 27th Rabiot headed home a cross from Theo Fernandez – who had replaced his brother – and then set up veteran Giroud to tap home for 2-1.
The champions were lucky when Australia’s Jackson Irvine headed against the outside post on the stroke of half-time before dominating the second half.
AC Milan’s Giroud almost found the net with an artistic overhead kick while Mbappe was blocked several times by defenders before the Paris Saint-Germain star headed in Ousmane Dembele’s cross for 3-1 in the 68th.
Mbappe’s cross set up Giroud four minutes later in what eventually was a comfortable win for the favourites as they avoided the fate of Lionel Messi’s Argentina who had been shocked 2-1 by Saudi Arabia a few hours earlier.
“Even if we were down at the start, we did what we had to do afterwards. We could have had a bigger score. Australia lost a bit of physicality in the first half,” France coach Didier Deschamps told broadcasters TF1.
Deschamps named Hernandez’ injury “the big black spot tonight” and Giroud added that “we want to dedicate this match to him [Hernandez] because we are losing another colleague in this competition.”
Australia coach Graham Arnold told the BBC: “I thought we had a great start to the game, with stuff we worked on, but they are the world champions for a reason. We gave it our best shot.”
Earlier in Doha, Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen returned to a major international tournament after suffering a cardiac arrest last year at the Euros against Finland.
But the Tunisians didn’t take Eriksen’s emotional comeback into account and thought they had broken the deadlock in the 23rd minute, but Issam Jebali was offside and his effort didn’t count.
Denmark’s then also had a goal denied after the break as Andreas Skov Olsen’s strike was ruled out after a very late offside flag, and they also didn’t get a stoppage-time penalty after a lengthy video review and had to be content with the draw.
“We aren’t at our top level yet, but we have to build from that,” Denmark defender Joachim Andersen said.
Tunisia defender Mohamed Dräger, meanwhile, praised the fans for the “great atmosphere” in the stadium. “You could hear what was going on here,” he said.