France had Paul Pogba to thank for a 2-1 victory in a hard-fought World Cup opener against Australia on Saturday, the Manchester United midfielder delivering Les Bleus late after successful second-half spot-kicks were traded.
Saturday, June 16, 2018
FIFA World Cup Group C, Matchday 1
France 2 - 1 Australia
After struggling to break down a dogged USA side in their final pre-World Cup friendly, France once again had trouble imposing their fluid passing game faced with Bert Van Marwijk's robust and well-organised Australia outfit.
Les Bleus' impressive front three of Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé ran riot in the opening ten minutes, the PSG star going closest with a near-post effort from a tight angle (2'), but Australia weathered the storm and drew a strong low save from Hugo Lloris following a free-kick (17').
After going into the break at 0-0, the match came to life ten minutes into the second half when Josh Risdon was adjudged - with the assistance of video refereeing - to have brought Griezmann down in the area. The Atlético Madrid star picked himself up and duly converted with a laser-guided strike (58'), but a flagrant handball in the area by France stopper Samuel Umtiti saw Australian captain Mile Jedinak get the Socceroos back on level terms (62').
The quick reply did something to dampen French spirits but, with ten minutes to go, Les Bleus upped the pressure and conjured a superb passage of one-touch play that ended with Pogba on the edge of the area firing a shot that took a deflection off Aziz Behich before crashing in off the underside of the bar (81').
The win was a deserved one against dogged opposition but Deschamps and his men will doubtless be looking for a much-improved performance in their next outing, against Peru on Thursday.
THE PLAYER: Paul Pogba
Not long ago, Pogba was the world's most expensive footballer and tipped by many to be the biggest star of his generation, but recent performances for club and country have drawn criticism for a lack of focus and impact. On Saturday, however, it was Pogba who worked successive one-twos with Mbappé and then Olivier Giroud before smashing the winner in off the woodwork, giving an excellent indication that could play a much-needed on-field leadership role in Deschamps' young side.
THE STAT: 10
Pogba's goal was his tenth for France and came as he earned his 55th cap, while Griezmann's spot-kick was his 20th for Les Bleus, also coming as he turned out for his country for the 55th time.