VAR, goal-line technology drama bails out Deschamps in France's sloppy win
KAZAN -- Three quick points from France 2-1 Australia in Group C at the World Cup on Saturday.
1. History made as VAR rules World Cup
France began their World Cup campaign with a nervy, historic victory over Australia thanks to the first-ever penalty awarded by video assistant referee (VAR).
After Joshua Risdon's late tackle on Antoine Griezmann just before the hour mark, referee Andres Cunha decided to have a look at the video after initially not giving a penalty.
The Uruguayan referee then changed his mind after looking at the VAR replay and pointed to the spot, and Griezmann scored. Even from looking at the VAR replay, plenty of observers had conflicting points of view. VAR was introduced in order to eliminate contentious decisions, but Australia could feel aggrieved that Cunha changed his mind, while France would have been furious had he not.
- Nick Miller: How will VAR work at World Cup?
In any case, France never deserved to take the lead after such an average performance. Even for their second goal, they needed the help of technology. Seven minutes from time, after a one-two with Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud, Paul Pogba saw his flick, deflected by Aziz Behich, hit the bar and bounce back down. Goal-line technology confirmed the ball had gone over the line by a couple of millimetres.
There's plenty of work to do for Didier Deschamps, though. France were pretty poor for most of this game. Indeed, Hugo Lloris, on his 99th cap for his country, even had to make a wonderful save at 0-0 in the first half to prevent Australia from opening the scoring.
He could do nothing about Mile Jedinak's penalty though. Samuel Umtiti's blatant and stupid handball in the box resulted in a penalty -- but not before VAR was consulted to confirm the referee's decision.
Pogba's strike was enough for France to come back, though for only their second win in their past five World Cup openers. But this game will largely be remembered for the introduction of technology and the debate that once again will spring up around its use.
2. France's attack fails to click
After a week of heavy debates over Deschamps' decision to change his tactics just before this World Cup, all eyes were on France's front three.
The manager had decided to kick off the competition with a mobile trio of Griezmann, Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele. Neither of them had a fixed position. We saw Griezmann on the left at the start of the game before moving to the centre and the right. Both Mbappe and Dembele also drifted a lot.
They had 15 good minutes at first, with two good chances for Griezmann and Mbappe, who became the youngest ever French player to play in a World Cup at 19 years old and 178 days.
But after that, they went quiet. The service, especially from Paul Pogba and Corentin Tolisso, was not good enough. Les Bleus were sluggish on the ball and lacked intensity and pace in the opposition's half.
Despite provoking the foul in the box and scoring the penalty, Griezmann was too quiet -- and this time it was not his decision.
Elsewhere, Dembele kept making the wrong choices and Mbappe looked like he was trying too hard to impress. Deschamps got it wrong and tried to rectify it with 20 minutes to go by taking off Griezmann and Dembele for Nabil Fekir and Olivier Giroud. The gamble paid off, as Giroud had a direct impact by putting Pogba through for France's winner.
3. Stubborn Australia a tough nut to crack
Australia produced the game everyone expected them to produce. They had been working very hard before the start of the tournament on their shape and their tactics, and it showed on Saturday.
Oceania's answer to Atletico Madrid was very well drilled and compact, with two lines of four. They were aggressive on France's key players Griezmann and Mbappe, often defending in pairs against them. Their discipline and work rate were impressive.
They may have been a bit limited going forward, but that wasn't their game plan against a tougher opponent. They wanted to frustrate them, and they did just that. Bert van Marwijk's men also showed great character to come back in the game and equalise.
They certainly didn't deserve to lose. This defeat will be hard to swallow, but it should not take away from the positive performance the Socceroos put in.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.