No Benzema, no problem! France winners, losers and ratings as Mbappe and Giroud overwhelm Australia
France may have lost Karim Benzema but they still have Kylian Mbappe. And that's bad news for any nation hoping to dethrone them as world champions.
Mbappe was at his electric best in his country's impressive 4-1 victory over Australia at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah on Tuesday night, scoring one goal and creating another.
Adrian Rabiot also had an excellent game, with the in-form Juve midfielder cancelling out Australia's shock opener, from Craig Goodwin, before then teeing up Olivier Giroud to make it 2-1 at the break.
Giroud struck again to equal Thierry Henry's record as France's all-time top scorer during a dominant second-half showing from the titleholders that will have sent a clear message to their World Cup rivals.
GOAL runs through all of the winners and losers from France's statement of intent...
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Ask anyone involved in the France set-up and they'll tell you that Olivier Giroud was utterly integral to the 2018 triumph in Russia. But it's always been pointed out that he didn't contribute a single goal during the tournament. So, it wasn't the least bit surprising to see him celebrate opening the scoring in France's very first game in Qatar with such vigour. It may have only been a tap-in but it clearly meant so much to the AC Milan striker, with his second and third World Cup goals arriving eight years after his first. That stat is testament to both his durability and his quality. Giroud has never been the most prolific of forwards and he probably wouldn't have started here had Karim Benzema been fit, but the 36-year-old is a great striker in his own right, as he proved once again here.
When Manchester United made a move for Adrien Rabiot during the summer, Lou Macari rubbished the proposed transfer, infamously admitting that he had never heard of the midfielder and, having performed a cursory Google check of his statistics, mocked his poor strike rate. It was an embarrassing display of ignorance, for a number of reasons, primarily because Rabiot is renowned as a controversial character. He's long been a divisive figure among football fans; everyone has an opinion on him. However, nobody would question his form this season. The Frenchman was by some distance Juve's best player during the first half of the season, even adding the goals to his game that Macari felt he was lacking... Indeed, he showcased his newfound killer instinct against Australia by heading home the equaliser before then creating the second, first stealing possession and then leaving Giroud with a tap-in after an exquisite exchange with Mbappe. A player that has long had his critics, even in France, appears to be finally realising the potential that has been obvious since his time at Paris Saint-Germain.
Mbappe's Euro 2020 campaign did not go according to plan. It was meant to be the tournament at which he proved himself the best player in the world. Both the trophy and the Ballon d'Or appeared his for the taking. A bitterly frustrating campaign ended in acrimony, though, with Mbappe missing the decisive spot-kick in France's last-16 shootout loss to Switzerland, after failing to register a single goal in the entire tournament. Many France fans and pundits blamed Mbappe, claiming his ego was out of control. Mbappe was devastated by the backlash, even threatening to quit the national team. Thankfully, he was persuaded into carrying on because he belongs on this stage. It clearly brings the very best out of him. Four years after lighting up Russia 2018 as a teenager, he now looks set to do likewise in Qatar, after scoring one goal and creating another during a scintillating display of his frankly frightening pace.
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Australia's beleaguered full-backs:
It was hard not to feel a huge degree of sympathy for Nathaniel Atkinson and Aziz Behich. They did their best to get close to Mbappe and Dembele, respectively, but they were repeatedly burned by the pair's blistering pace. It was almost unfair. At one point during the first half, Dembele even gave Behich a five-metre head start and yet he still blazed past him with staggering ease. Mbappe, meanwhile, twice stood up Atkinson before crossing for Giroud to head home France's fourth goal. France may have their flaws but it's doubtful that any other side of the competition has a pair of quicker wingers. Indeed, the one consolation for Atkinson and Behich after such a chastening experience is that they won't be the only full-backs run ragged by France's dynamic duo at Qatar 2022.
France have been decimated by injuries in recent weeks. Indeed, the squad was already down to 25 players, with Didier Deschamps having surprisingly deciding against replacing Karim Benzema, who withdrew on Saturday night. Now they might only have 24. The severity of Lucas Hernandez's injury is not yet known, but it certainly doesn't look good. No stretcher was required, thankfully, but Hernandez was still helped from the field in obvious pain. His unavailability would be a major concern for Deschamps, given he has no other cover at left-back aside from Lucas' brother, Theo. Hernandez's injury was the one negative on a night of positives for France – but it could prove a hugely significant one.
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France Ratings: Defence
Hugo Lloris (6/10):
In all honesty, was rarely called upon, other than to retrieve the ball from the back of his net after Australia's opener.
Benjamin Pavard (6/10):
He may not be the most adventurous of right-backs but he isn't asked to be by Deschamps. Did exactly what was required of him, then, during a solid showing.
Dayot Upamecano (8/10):
Had an excellent game at the back, winning several tackles and making a number of timely interceptions. Also used the ball very well.
Ibrahima Konate (6/10):
Not quite as dominant or as impressive as his partner in the centre of defence but acquitted himself well. Will be interesting to see if he holds on to his starting spot when Raphael Varane is fully fit.
Lucas Hernandez (N/A):
A nightmare for the Bayern Munich defender, who injured himself in the build-up to Australia's opener and was immediately replaced by his brother Theo.
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Adrien Rabiot (9/10):
Brought his fine form with Juventus this season with him to Qatar, heading home a much-needed equaliser before putting the ball on a plate for Giroud to put France ahead.
Aurelien Tchouameni (7/10):
Not the most eye-catching display, given what was going on ahead of him, but his distribution was excellent. Barely misplaced one pass.
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Ousmane Dembele (8/10):
An extremely lively opening in which he repeatedly showed off his pace and dribbling skills before then setting up his good friend Mbappe for a goal in the second half with a terrific cross.
Antoine Griezmann (7/10):
Industrious as ever, dropping deep early on to help out defence before France took over. Unlucky to see a shot cleared off the line.
Kylian Mbappe (9/10):
A thorn in Australia's left-hand side. Played a pivotal role in France's second goal with a sublime flick into the path of Rabiot, headed home their third and crossed for Giroud to make it 4-1. Just unplayable.
Olivier Giroud (8/10):
Ensured that Benzema wasn't missed by popping up with two goals. A class act who offers so much.
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Subs & Manager
Youssouf Fofana (N/A):
Replaced Tchouameni for the final 13 minutes.
Kingsley Coman (N/A):
Only came on in the 77th minute, for Dembele.
Jules Kounde (N/A):
Brought on for Pavard with just over 60 seconds of normal time remaining.
Marcus Thuram (N/A):
Part of a double-substitution with Kounde.
Didier Deschamps (7/10):
His decision not to replace Benzema raised eyebrows but, on this evidence, Deschamps is right: France have enough options in attack to cope without the Real Madrid man. He'll be hoping that Lucas Hernandez's injury is not serious, though. The last thing he needs is another withdrawal.