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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 giant strewth-gasm as Australia fthreatened to earn the best result in their history. When Craig Goodwin scored, provoking a thrashing mass of yellow-shirted bodies at one end of the stadium and A Land Down Under to be blasted into the Doha night, an already strange city took on a new level of bizarre. A dose of réalité is enough to wake you up. France coasted through the final 20 minutes.

Ten minutes after Goodwin’s mini-miracle, Mitchell Duke’s shot from 25 yards looked to have Hugo Lloris beaten, and those eating their cereal in front of televisions in Australia probably spent the next few minutes cleaning milk off the carpet. Duke, surely a contender for the Mr Most Australian Name 2022 title, missed by inches. Everything has to go your way.

And so it would not last. It could not last. Australia’s back four was formed of two current Hearts players, a current Dundee United player and an ex-Dundee United player. France’s attack contained far less Cinch Premiership experience, but ultimately did not suffer for it. Kylian Mbappe began to find space and, more dangerous still, have some fun.

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France’s first came when Australia were unable to spot the Rabiot in the floodlights, the Juventus midfielder finding space six yards out and never likely to miss the header. The second was more symbolic: Olivier Giroud may ultimately determine whether France defend their trophy or fall just short. Perhaps they won’t miss Karim Benzema after all.

Giroud is basically ageless and timeless by this point. His usual role is to walk slowly in one direction, following the path of the ball as France pass it from side to side. But few in the game’s history – and this isn’t even hyperbole – have been more efficient with their movement. You could be stood watching Giroud in a small tent (honestly, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon) and the next thing you know he’s in four yards of space and jumping for a header.

The presence of empty seats has become a theme of this World Cup group stage; more of the same here. The Al Janoub stadium only holds 40,000 (or 44,000, depending on which official Fifa figure you depend upon). To see its biggest stand barely two-thirds full at kick-off for the World Cup holders’ first match is frankly a little depressing (although it must take its place in the queue there).

To fill any void is a relentless hype machine, several charmless voices screaming into microphones and unforgivably inviting supporters to do the same. There are light shows – “LIGHT UP THE SKYYYYYY!!” – demands for chants – “MAKE SOME NOOIIIIIISE!!” and fire, because there is always fire at football now. This game is governed and organised by those who constantly talk up its beauty – “SHOW US YOU LOVE THIS GAAAAAME!!” – and do their absolute best to cover it up. We don’t need it; football really is allowed to do the talking when it is frantic and fizzy and this was throughout.

Mbappe spent most of the evening creating – a flick here, a go-stop-go dribble there – but his desire to score became increasingly evident, likely fuelled by a dreadful first-half miss. If we have learnt anything about Paris Saint-Germain’s de facto sporting director, it is that he usually gets his way eventually. The slow-motion glanced header, hitting Mat Ryan’s post and making him look foolish, was just reward.

But the night belonged to Giroud. The image of him rising high and then dipping his neck forward to send a header low into one corner belongs in the gallery of French football; Mbappe providing the crosses to him is Didier Deschamps’ plan A. Thierry Henry may have scored his 51 international goals with a little more elan or grace, but Giroud has matched him for numbers and few will care about the art if France can roll on.

Olivier Giroud matches Henry’s France record as holders give Australia a dose of réalité

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