Pogba goal saves France's blushes against disciplined Australians, FT 2-1

It's embarrassing really, to have such riches. The French squad for the FIFA World Cup 2018 is so formidable that it has been assessed as the most valuable in the tournament. When its starting 11 lined up at Kazan's Arena on the third day of the tournament, they were expected to sweep aside their opponents, the Australians, aside. When the historic game -- which also saw first penalty awarded by VAR -- began, it was a different matter altogether.

The French manager named a young and talented starting 11 in a 4-3-3 with Antoine Griezmann flanked by exciting, and quick, wingers PSG's Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele. The squad was the youngest French World Cup side since 1930.

Australia started in a sort of 4-2-3-1 formation, their game plan revolving around a stoic defending and counterattack.

France started brightly amid a flurry of attacks. Griezmaan and Kylian Mbappe had already tested Australia's goalkeeper Mathew Ryan. In fact, the French had four shots on target in the starting eight minutes. But, gradually, the Australians regrouped and began implementing their game plan in a rather disciplined manner. They were so successful in doing what they had planned that France had just one more shot for the next almost 37 minutes. Special mentions must be made for their centre-back pair Mark Miligan and Trent Sainsbury. Australia could take just one shot in the first half, but it was the best chance among the two teams.

The second half was the exact opposite of the scoreless first half, with action abound.

First, in the 55th minute, France won a penalty after the referee consulted VAR -- the video assistance technology that's made its World Cup debut in the current edition. Paul Pogba sent a weighted pass into Griezmann who was through on goal but Australia's Josh Risdon nicked at his toes. Initially the referee dismissed France's appeal, but after consulting VAR, he pointed to the spot. Griezmaan blasted his penalty to into the right side of the net.  

More drama was to follow, though. Within four minutes, Australia won a free kick near the box. Midfielder Aaron Mooy swung his free-kick into the box and France's Samuel Umtiti, in a sort of brain fade moment, swung his arm at the ball, as if dunking the ball inside an imaginative basket. The referee didn't need VAR this time and Autralia's penalty-taking specialist, Jedinak, rolled the ball to Hugo Lloris' left, scoring the leveller.

From there on, it looked like the Australians would give the blues to the French. But, like in all matches of yesterday, there was still a scope for late drama. In the 81st minute, Pogba, who hadn't been very productive, strode into the box after a fine interplay in the midfield and dinked the ball with his toe above Ryan who was marginally off his line. The ball hit the underside of the bar and beyond the goal-line, towards the net.

Both sides started a series of attacks later but nothing could come of any of them. And despite being disciplined, the Australians were, in the end, edged out by the French.

Despite the win, the France camp would be anxious as they failed to show any quality cohesion in their play despite having such a tremendous squad. For Australia, they proved they are no pushovers. A hardworking and disciplined team, if they can do the same and more against Denmark and Peru, they might just make the cut for the next stage.

 
Here is the 23-member full squad of the France National team:

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda, Alphonse Areola.

Defenders: Layvin Kurzawa, Benjamin Mendy, Samuel Umtiti, Raphaël Varane, Lucas Hernandez, Benjamin Pavard, Adil Rami, Djibril Sidibé

Midfielders: Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Corentin Tolisso, N'Golo Kante, Steven Nzonzi.

Forwards: Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Florian Thauvin, Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir.

Australia 23-man squad:

Goalkeepers: Brad Jones, Mitch Langerak, Mat Ryan, Danny Vukovic;

Defenders: Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Alex Gersbach, Matthew Jurman, Fran Karacic, James Meredith, Josh Risdon, Trent Sainsbury, Aleksandar Susnjar, Bailey Wright;

Midfielders: Josh Brillante, Jackson Irvine, Mile Jedinak, Robbie Kruse, Massimo Luongo, Mark Milligan, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, James Troisi;

Forwards: Daniel Arzani, Tim Cahill, Apostolos Giannou, Tomi Juric, Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout, Dimitri Petratos, Nikita Rukavytsya.


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