Olivier Giroud netted twice to become France’s joint record scorer as they fought back to put Australia to the sword, opening their World Cup defence with a 4-1 Group D win on Tuesday that silenced talk of a holders’ curse.
Australia had taken a stunning lead at Al Janoub Stadium when Craig Goodwin applied a super finish to Mathew Leckie’s cross after nine minutes, but France levelled when Adrien Rabiot headed home and Giroud’s tap-in gave them the halftime lead.
Kylian Mbappe’s glancing header in the 68th minute was followed by Giroud’s 51st international goal three minutes later, drawing him level with Thierry Henry as France’s all-time top marksman.
Drafted into the team to play his 115th international after Karim Benzema was ruled out of the tournament by injury on Saturday, Giroud equalled the record set by Henry in his 123-match international career from 1997 to 2010.
Didier Deschamps’ side, who lead the Group D after rivals Denmark and Tunisia drew 0-0 earlier on Tuesday, ended a run of poor starts for World Cup holders, after the previous three — Italy, Spain and Germany — all failed to win their openers.
Giroud’s career is a testimony to his quality, even though he has often had to fight to get the credit he deserves. The true worth of this intelligent striker has been recognised late on in his playing days.
He won three FA Cups at Arsenal, added another with Chelsea in 2018, scored when they beat the Gunners in the 2019 Europa League final and played a role as a key member of the Blues squad that won the Champions League in 2021.
Giroud’s habit of collecting silverware moved with him to AC Milan, where he won Serie A. The medals do the talking and he has his sights set on another in Qatar.
France went into this tournament stripped of a host of key players, but when the replacements have the experience and track record of Giroud it is little wonder Deschamps was so calm about the absentees.
He is without Benzema, defender Presnel Kimpembe, midfield duo Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, as well as £70m-rated RB Leipzig striker Christopher Nkunku.
Despite those missing, this was a powerful statement of intent that France will not give up their crown as world champions easily.
It certainly did not matter here as Mbappe hit the groove right away, and the odd nervous moment at the back was compensated for by the masterclass in attack, spearheaded by Giroud.
France fell short and their pride was hurt by their Euro 2020 last-16 exit on penalties to Switzerland. They are determined to make up for that in Qatar.
Mbappe will be the star name and he put all the recent upheaval and speculation about his future at Paris St-Germain to one side here.
He looked happy in his work as part of a France team that joined hands to take a bow in front of their celebrating fans after the final whistle, as the clock ticked towards midnight in Qatar.
Giroud’s name was chanted loudly after his record-equalling goal, the extent of what he brings fully appreciated by supporters who have travelled with high expectations.
A good night for the holders; a bad one for those hoping to succeed them as world champions if the performances of Giroud and Mbappe are a measure of what is to come.