2018-06-16 09:01:12
France Passes First World Cup Test. So Does V.A.R.

09:01, June 16 105 0

Paul Pogba’s late goal, on a shot that deflected off a defender’s foot and the crossbar before slamming down just across the goal line, gave France a 2-1 victory over Australia on Saturday in Kazan in the 2018 World Cup Group C opener for both teams.

The French, who have designs on a deep run in this World Cup, will feel the result was deserved. They struggled to break down a gritty Australian defense, however, and only took the lead on a penalty kick after Antoine Griezmann was tripped from behind midway through the second half.

Griezmann, one of France’s group of star strikers, coolly buried the penalty to give the French their first lead.

The penalty was initially waved away by the game’s Uruguayan referee, Andres Cunha, but he got a second look in the first test for the World Cup’s new video-assistant review system. Alerted to his possible error at the next stoppage in play, Cunha paused the game, sprinted to a sideline monitor, saw the trip more clearly than he had in real time, and awarded the penalty.

Three minutes later, it was Australia at the spot after the France defender Samuel Umtiti was whistled for a handball on a cross. This time, too, it appeared the whistle came after a brief delay, though it was unclear if Cunha had simply rewound the play in his mind or been alerted to the handball by a V.A.R. watching in Moscow.

Either way, it was a penalty, and Mile Jedinak quickly rolled in a shot that erased France’s lead.

Pogba’s winner, off a neat give-and-go with the substitute Olivier Giroud, put France ahead to stay.

■ Here’s how it happened:

A good fight, but France had just enough quality, and just enough lucky bounces, to prevail. They’ll be pleased. Australia will have lots to feel good about — everything, that is, except the score line.

Five minutes of added time for Australia to try to pull a rabbit out of its hat.

Ninety minutes in and he’s fresh as a daisy, spinning away from two Australians on the sideline, then dribbling around a third. The motor on him must be one of the world’s great renewable energy sources.

Like it or not, this game may be an advertisement for V.A.R. and goal-line technology, two innovations added — amid much furor — to help officials in the last two World Cup cycles. V.A.R. confirmed the first penalty, seemed to be behind the delayed call that awarded the second, and goal-line technology just gave Pogba the third.

The goal of each innovation was to get calls right, and in each case today, that appears to be what happened.

Pogba! He works a neat give and go with Giroud at the top of the box, and send a shot off a defender’s foot and the crossbar behind a wrong-footed Ryan.

This time it’s goal-line technology that comes into play. The referee’s watch buzzes, the whistle blows, and Pogba’s hands go from out wide — “Whaaaaa?’ — to upraised.

France leads again, by 2-1. Let’s see if they take better care of the edge this time.

Tolisso cynically breaks up an Australian counter with a shot to Juric’s ankle. That’s a professional foul, professionally done.

A change up front for Deschamps, and good news for me, too, as I lose to accents with 20 minutes to go.

Giroud, by the way, has his head taped like he had to put down his fife and drum to come on. He immediately strides to the center of the Australia penalty area and waits for service. Maybe the French trainers should have painted a big ‘X’ on the front of that tape headband.

Umtiti, figuring what the heck after his blunder, unleashes a shot from 30 yards directly into an Australian backside. The ricochet makes it almost to midfield.

A loose ball in Australia’s end puts Ryan under pressure from a racing Mbappé, but he wins the short sprint and clears. He’ll be asking for a little more care next time, thankyouverymuch.

Australia is the first to go to the bench. Juric is a regular for Australia, and while Nabbout worked hard, it’s hard to remember his best moment.

Cool as a cucumber, Australia’s captain rolls the ball behind a diving Lloris and it’s 1-1. Simplest finish by a man with a six-inch beard in this year’s World Cup.

What could Umtiti have been thinking there??!?! He jumped for a ball well over his head and left his fist up long enough to touch it. Stunning bit of brain lock, but no Australian on earth is complaining.

Umtiti has handled the ball while jumping for a free kick he was never going to reach. What a mistake.

Revived by the goal, France surges forward again. But the flub the attack and it peters out in a weak shot But they definitely feel like they were owed that lead, and now they have it.

No doubt from Griezmann, who takes one step and buries the penalty in the right-side netting past a flat-footed Ryan.

V.A.R. did its job there; Risdon clearly clipped Griezmann’s trailing heel on the slide tackle, and that’s what brought him down. He gets ayellow, and Griezmann steps to the spot.

Pogba finally arrives, threading a gorgeous through ball into the path of Griezmann down the left. It looked like he was scythed down by Risdon, but the referee waves away the penalty shout.

But wait: he’s gone to look after the next whistle. Big test for V.A.R.

Dembélé cuts in from the right and find a man on the left. But his pass, like so many French ones today, lacks just enough quality to perform its intended task.

He’s holding his fans and patting the turf, but the blow seemed only a glancing one, and the referee seems pretty confident in his opinion that the challenge that dropped him was a nothingburger.

No changes for either team to start the second half. Keep an eye on Pogba for the first 15 minutes or so. He’ll need to be better, and more involved, than he was in the first half.

Australia will be happy with how that went, France not so much. Oddly, the best chance of the half went to the Socceroos, but one gets the sense that France has the talent to sort this out an pry open the defense as Australia tires in the second half. They just can’t expect to walk the ball into the net the way Australia is standing shoulder to shoulder in the center.

Worst case, Deschamps can just throw on Olivier Giroud, lob some balls in the box, and see what he can do. For some reason, he always seems to get his head on one or two.

Van Marwijk, for one, would just prefer to see more of the same.

“Not always the best players win prizes,” he said Friday. “A lot of times, it’s the best team. We would like to be the best team.”

Chris Clarey: I feel like I’m in Australia. The French fans, who are surely a shorter flight away, are getting outshouted by a lot. But the French midfield is not exactly making us forget Platini and Zidane, either. The front three of Griezmann, Mbappé and Dembélé looks fluid and dangerous, however. Given a chance, they can make something happen very quickly.

Australia has settled into a very narrow set of two lines of four, and they’re breaking up any attempt to go through — or over — their back line. France would do well to stretch the field, both now and in the second half. Width favors them, and it might just crack open the Socceroos’ bank vault of a defense.

France clearly believes it should be ahead by now, and that’s probably true. But Deschamps keeps waving his arms over calls, Mbappé’s done a bit of grumbling to the referee and Australia just keeps running around breaking things up. Still scoreless.

Griezmann latches on to a looping feed in the area with his toe, but Australia scrambles back to cover.

He turns through two defenders but lets the ball get away. But definitely looked like a hundred-million-dollar player there.

Dembélé takes a tumblecutting from the left, and both he and Deschamps find it incroyable that there was no foul there. Australia has definitely found its footing a little after that last scoring chance, but they’re definitely as physical as you’d think a plausibly overmatched, Bert van Marwijk-coached team would be.

Against all momentum, it’s Australia that nearly scores first: a cross, a header, a stray French foot. But Lloris dives to his left to parry it away in front of Sainsburg, who was there to pounce on any mistake. That would have really been something.

Mooy swings in a hard-diving cross, but France clears. And back we go. Leckie is a step late on Lucas, and he picks up the game’s first yellow.

And sets up another France free kick. Its cleared, but only for a corner.

Australia gets a small stretch of possession, soothing Aussie nerves a bit, but every loose touch leads to a turnover, and to France charging back at them again. Now they’ve won a free kick out on the left, and it’s France who will have to defend it.

Another chance for France, as Griezmann gets a look up high, but Ryan is there again. Two minutes later he gets a header on a free kick. Ryan is there to catch it on the bounce.

Sensing a theme yet?

A foul on Mbappé sets up a Pogba free kick from 25 yards or so out top. His shot clears the wall, but hits Ryan right in the mitts.

Australia’s first scare comes in the form of Mbappé breaking down the right and firing a shot from a tight angle that Ryan does well to push around the post. The Socceroos will want to limit looks like that.

Here we go. Australia in head-to-toe yellow, France in blue tops with white shorts. Enjoy.

More from Chris in Kazan:

Bold move from Didier Deschamps to embrace the youth movement to this degree. Among those on the bench for France’s first World Cup game are :

• Olivier Giroud, 31, who is the current team’s leading scorer and tied with Zinedine Zidane for fourth on France’s all-time list with 31 goals.

• Blaise Matuidi, 31, one of their key figures in midfield in the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euros.

• Benjamin Mendy, 23, the Manchester City wing back widely considered one of the best in the world at his position.

France-Australia is the first of four games today. The matches kick off three hours apart, so make sure you hydrate and eat between in the brief windows between them, because you’ll probably want to at least sample them all. Rory Smith of The Times is at the next one (Argentina-Iceland in Moscow, 9 a.m. ET). Then Tariq Panja will check in from Peru-Denmark in Saransk (noon, ET). The nightcap could be the best of the bunch: Nigeria-Croatia in Kaliningrad (3 p.m. ET).

Chris Clarey: Big turnout here in Kazan from the Aussie fans, most of whom have come a long way. A small sea of green and gold fills up several blocks of seats in the lower tier of this charming stadium.

Kylian Mbappé, by the way, becomes the youngest player to represent France at the World Cup, at 19 years and 178 days. He’s a long way from Bondy.

From Chris Clarey in Kazan: The French team that will start against Australia — at an average of 24 years 6 months — is, according to the French newspaper L’Equipe, the youngest French team to start a World Cup since the 1930 edition, which was the first.