ONCE France found their range, they were irresistible.

The injury-decimated defending champions had seen Argentina being upset just hours earlier in their opening match of the World Cup. Here, at the Al Janoub Stadium, designed in the shape of Qatar’s traditional dhow boats, they were battling to avoid another against an Australian side that seemed buoyed by Saudi Arabia’s stunning victory over Lionel Messi’s Argentina.

While the Saudis had come from behind in their 2-1 win, Australia had taken the lead in the Group ‘D’ clash against Didier Deschamps’ side in the ninth minute; Craig Goodwin firing in a fizzing cross from Matthew Leckie.

Leckie’s turn before that cross had floored Lucas Hernandez — the left-back, one of six members in the starting lineup that had started the World Cup final in Moscow four years ago, twisting his knee and adding to France’s injury woes.

Injuries also robbed France of their midfield spine comprising Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante but Adrien Rabiot stepped up in Al Janoub, showing the riches Deschamps has at his disposal.

His towering header off a cross from Theo Hernandez — on for his brother Lucas — levelled matters in the 27th and five minutes later, he set up Olivier Giroud for a tap-in.

France were in full flow and Kylian Mbappe, the breakout star of the last World Cup, added a third in the 68th when he headed in Ousmane Dembele’s cross before he provided the cross that Giroud powered in three minutes later to move level on 51 goals with Thierry Henry as France’s top goalscorer.

France began their campaign in Russia with a 2-1 win against Australia. In Qatar, they’ve done even better.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2022

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