France benefited from a controversial first use of video assistant referee technology at a World Cup as they laboured to a 2-1 win over Australia.
Antoine Griezmann put Les Bleus ahead with a contentious second-half penalty in Kazan after referee Andres Cunha adjudged the forward had been fouled by Joshua Risdon having watched a replay of the incident at the side of the pitch.
Australia, who felt aggrieved as defender Risdon appeared to have touched the ball before tripping Griezmann with his follow-through, quickly levelled through Mile Jedinak’s spot-kick, before a late goal from Paul Pogba clinched victory for France.
Les Bleus, led by an exciting front three of Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, were overwhelming favourites for the Group C opener. They began with purpose and forced three saves out of Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan inside the opening six minutes. Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann produced the best of the efforts, connecting well with a powerful half-volley from distance which Ryan dealt with comfortably.
The Socceroos, managed by Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk for the first time in a competitive match, looked like they may be in for a long afternoon but they almost opened the scoring when Hugo Lloris reacted to prevent Corentin Tolisso scoring an own goal following Aaron Mooy’s free-kick.
France’s early promise quickly faded before they were presented with a perfect chance to break the deadlock in questionable circumstances 13 minutes into the second half.
Uruguayan official Cunha initially played on following Risdon’s challenge on Griezmann before pointing to the penalty spot after consulting VAR and viewing a screen next to the dugouts.
Defender Risdon perhaps had reason to dispute the decision, before Griezmann seized the opportunity, whipping the ball to Ryan’s left to claim his 21st international goal.
The lead did not last long, though, as Australia levelled with a spot-kick of their own four minutes later, and this time there was no doubt about the award. Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti inexplicably handled a free-kick in the box, allowing Socceroos captain Jedinak to calmly send Lloris the wrong way.
Australia appeared to be heading for a deserved point following their dogged performance, but there was another unfortunate twist nine minutes from time, to the relief of France coach Didier Deschamps.
Defender Aziz Behich challenged Pogba just inside the box only to see the Manchester United man’s effort loop over Ryan and narrowly cross the line having bounced down off the underside of the crossbar, with the goal confirmed by goal-line technology.
Deschamps admitted France can improve significantly.“It was not easy, but winning the first match is very important,” Deschamps told L’Equipe.
“It was complicated today with a team who gave us a hard time. It’s hard to explain everything. We missed a change of pace, a little juice. At the end of the match, we had a few more opportunities. We did the job. But we can do better, do a lot better.”
Australia coach Bert van Marwijk said he did not want to speak about VAR and declared himself proud of his side’s performance.
“Everybody is talking about the VAR but for me it’s the start and we have to learn a lot about this system but I prefer to say something about the game,” said Van Marwijk, according to socceroos.com.au.
Van Marwijk, who was appointed at the start of the year following the surprise resignation of Ange Postecoglou, added: “I’m proud but disappointed. I think we gave a very good performance.
“No one expected we could play like this against France but I think there were a lot of moments when (France) didn’t know what to do any more so that’s a big compliment for us.
“The way we wanted to play, they did it for 95 per cent so I can’t blame any players, I can only give them compliments. At least, we deserved a draw. When you see this game you must have confidence for the rest of the tournament.”