Monday, November 28, 2022

Olivier Giroud equals Thierry Henry’s record as France give Australia a dose of reality

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The world champions’ campaign gets off to a shaky start before Adrien Rabiot, a Giroud double, and Kylian Mbappe restore order

France 4-1 Australia (Rabiot 27′, Giroud 32′, 71′, Mbappe 68′ | Goodwin 9′)

AL JANOUB STADIUM – For 20 minutes we had all the fun of the fair, a huge stray gas as Australia threatened to record the best result in their history. When Craig Goodwin scored a goal, provoked a raging mass of bodies in yellow T-shirts at one end of the stadium and A Land Down Under was blasted into Doha night, an already strange city took on a new level of bizarreness. A dose of reality is enough to wake you up. France rolled through the last 20 minutes.

Ten minutes after Goodwin’s mini-miracle, it looked like Mitchell Duke’s 25-yard shot had beaten Hugo Lloris, and those eating their cereal in front of the TV in Australia were likely to spend the next few minutes wiping the milk off the carpet . Duke, certainly a contender for Mr Most Australian Name 2022, missed it by a hair’s breadth. All Has to go your way

And so it would not last. It couldn’t last. Australia’s back four consisted of two current Hearts players, a current Dundee United player and a former Dundee United player. France’s attack contained far less Cinch Premiership experience but ultimately didn’t suffer. Kylian Mbappe started to find space and, more dangerously, to have fun.

France’s first goal came when Australia couldn’t see the Rabiot in the floodlights, the Juventus midfielder found space six meters away and was unlikely to ever miss the header. The second was more symbolic: Olivier Giroud could ultimately decide whether France defend their trophy or just fall behind. Maybe they won’t miss Karim Benzema after all.

Giroud is basically timeless and ageless at this point. His usual role is to walk slowly in one direction, following the ball’s path as France pass it from side to side. But few in the game’s history – and that’s not even an exaggeration – have been more efficient with their movements. You could be standing in a small tent watching Giroud (honestly, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon) and the next thing you know he’s four meters away, jumping after a header.

Empty seats have become an issue this World Cup group stage; more of that here. Al Janoub Stadium only holds 40,000 (or 44,000 depending on which official Fifa figure you rely on). To see the main grandstand barely two-thirds full as the world champions kick off their first game is frankly a little depressing (although she has to take her place in the queue there).

Filling Every Void is a relentless hype machine, multiple charming voices screaming into mics and unforgivably urging supporters to do the same. There are light shows – “LIGHT UP THE SKYYYYYY!!” – calls for chants – “MAKE SOME NOOIIIIIISE!!” and fire, because there’s always fire in football now. This game is run and organized by those who constantly talk about its beauty – “SHOW US YOU LOVE THIS GAAAAAME!!” – and do their best to cover it up. We don’t need it; Football really gets to talk when it’s hectic and bubbly, and it’s been that way throughout.

Mbappe spent most of the evening being creative – a streak here, a go-stop-go dribble there – but his desire to score was becoming ever clearer, likely fueled by a horrendous miss in the first halftime. If we’ve learned anything about Paris Saint-Germain’s de facto sporting director, it’s that he usually breaks through at some point. The slow motion header that hit Mat Ryan’s post and made him look stupid was just the reward.

But the night belonged to Giroud. The image of him rising high and then bending his neck forward to send a header deep into a corner belongs in the gallery of French football; Mbappe, supplying him with the crosses, is Didier Deschamps’ Plan A. Thierry Henry may have scored his 51 international goals with a little more panache or grace, but Giroud has matched him in numbers and few will care about the art when France can go on.

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