Who needs Karim Benzema? Olivier Giroud scored twice to kick off France’s title defence with an emphatic win over Australia, and equal his country’s scoring record in the process.
- Olivier Giroud started at the expense of the injured Karim Benzema against Australia
- The 36-year-old scored twice to equal a Thierry Henry record
- FIFA+ reflects on a positive night for Giroud and France
You could call this a night when France’s plan B paid off to spectacular effect. Without the injured Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud filled the breach magnificently at centre-forward, the veteran ending the night level with Thierry Henry at the top of his country’s scoring chart as his two goals against Australia lifted him on to 51 from 115 appearances. It was a night when Giroud offered an exhibition of his enduring powers. First, the AC Milan man’s scoring instincts ensured he was in the right place to sweep in Adrien Rabiot’s cut-back and later, in the second half, to head in from Kylian Mbappe’s cross.
With it he became the oldest scorer for a European nation at the FIFA World Cup™, aged 36 years and 53 days. At the final whistle, a succession of team-mates offered him a congratulatory embrace. On this evidence he will likely leave Qatar as France’s record marksman outright.
Mbappe has said how much he enjoys playing with Giroud and small wonder – consider his exquisite flick to release the Paris Saint-Germain forward for an explosive strike deflected just wide in the second half. His penalty-box presence was also a factor in the opening goal at Al Janoub Stadium, Giroud drawing two defenders to allow space for Rabiot to exploit with his header.
Rabiot famously turned down the offer of a place on Didier Deschamps’ standby list for Russia 2018, so he will no doubt doubly appreciate this opportunity on the grand stage. How he took it, becoming the first Frenchman since Christophe Dugarry at France ’98 to record a goal and assist on his World Cup finals debut. The assist came when he harried Nathaniel Atkinson into an error and produced the cut-back for Giroud.
There was another echo of 1998 in France’s opening game of their Group D campaign. Kylian Mbappe’s header for the concluding goal meant that for the first time since the final that summer France had scored two headers in a World Cup match. Mbappe might have had more goals as Antoine Griezmann, in a deeper role in the midfield three, twice teed him up brilliantly but he failed to profit. As with Benzema, it is fair to say Paul Pogba’s absence was not felt. There was another deputy who made his mark too with Theo Hernandez coming on for his injured brother Lucas. Socceroo Aaron Mooy reflected afterwards that Australia had tried to be “compact through the middle” but instead France just “went around the sides” with Mbappe and Hernandez tormenting their opponents down the left (France registering 30 final-third entries in that left channel). The extent of the older Hernandez’s injury remains to be seen, but suffice to say, Deschamps at least has a Plan B.