France recorded a 2-1 victory over a stubborn Australia side to begin their World Cup campaign with three points.
Didier Deschamps’s side were well below their best in Saturday’s Group C opener in Kazan, but a controversial penalty from Antoine Griezmann and an own goal from Aziz Behich gave Les Blues an opening-game victory.
Mile Jedinak had equalised for Australia from the spot but while the Socceroos will take the positives from their performance, Bert van Marwijk’s team face an uphill struggle to qualify for the last 16.
Heading into the game, France were the clear favourites and it took less than two minutes for Kylian Mbappe to get a shot on target, with the Paris Saint-Germain seeing an effort palmed away by Mathew Ryan at the near post.
Paul Pogba then sent a tame free kick straight into the hands of the Australia goalkeeper, before Antoine Griezmann’s half-volley was comfortably kept out by the Brighton & Hove Albion man down to his left.
However, that was as good as it got for the Euro 2016 runners-up as Australia slowly began to assert themselves in the middle of the park and the Socceroos almost netted a surprise opener in the 17th minute.
A free kick into the penalty area from Aaron Mooy was deflected towards the bottom corner by France’s Corentin Tolisso, who was thankful to Hugo Lloris diving to his left to palm the ball away.
Australia rallied and started to push France back into their own half and although Deschamps’s side responded, finding themselves evenly matched appeared to have a lasting effect and Australia were rarely threatened before the break.
The opening minutes of the second half passed by without incident but just before the hour mark, France were controversially awarded a penalty for a foul by Josh Risdon on Antoine Griezmann, a decision given with the assistance of VAR despite the defender getting a touch to the ball.
Griezmann fired this effort from 12 yards to Ryan’s left – with the goalkeeper not moving – but three minutes later, Australia got the justice that they felt they deserved when been given a spot kick at the other end.
Samuel Umtiti bizarrely put his hand up to alter the direction of a cross and from the resulting penalty, Jedinak calmly slotted the ball into the bottom corner.
The equaliser led to Deschamps making changes – including the introduction of Olivier Giroud for Griezmann – but as the match headed into the final 15 minutes, France’s only effort on goal came from a speculative volley from Benjamin Pavard.
However, with 10 minutes left, France regained the lead. Pogba’s run into the penalty area was halted by Behich but the defender could only divert the ball over the head of Ryan and watched on as his intervention struck the underside of the crossbar and went inches over the line.
Australia struggled to respond from the disappointment of conceding a second and although France failed to find a third in the final minutes, Deschamps and his players will be delighted to come through with maximum points from a fixture where they under-performed.
FRANCE (4-3-3): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Kante, Tolisso (Matuidi 78′), Pogba; Dembele (Fekir 70′), Mbappe, Griezmann (Giroud 70′)
AUSTRALIA (4-3-3) Ryan; Milligan, Behich, Risdon, Sainsbury; Jedinak, Mooy, Rogic (Irvine 72′); Leckie, Kruse (Arzani 84′), Nabbout (Juric 62′)