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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Deschamps has tough decisions ahead despite France's World Cup winning start

French were unconvincing in beating Australia 2-1 in Group C clash as they are helped by VAR

Paul Pogba celebrates his winning goal for France against Australia. Diego Azubel / EPA 
Paul Pogba celebrates his winning goal for France against Australia. Diego Azubel / EPA 

La Decision, Antoine Griezmann’s rather self-important video was entitled and, as France made a distinctly fortunate start to their World Cup, it was about la decision.

Or even les decisions, none of them related to Griezmann’s recent choice to remain with Atletico rather than signing for Barcelona.

Yet he was nonetheless a central figure on a historic occasion. Griezmann was scorer of and beneficiary for the World Cup’s first true video assistant referee (VAR) goal; perhaps unsurprisingly, it divided opinion, even if the correct call was ultimately made.

Paul Pogba had split a well-drilled Australian defence to release Griezmann. He raced into the penalty area. The sliding Josh Risdon caught first the ball and then the attacker’s trailing foot, upending Griezmann.

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Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha initially determined the challenge was fair, then halted play to look at the television monitor and overruled his initial decision.

Griezmann converted the resulting penalty. Euro 2016’s top scorer had opened his account in the World Cup.

Pogba’s eventual winner, deflected off Aziz Behich, looping up over Ryan, hitting the underside of the bar and awarded when goal-line technology confirmed it crossed the line, also highlighted how the naked eye is no longer the only judge.

Football is shedding its status as the most Luddite of sports, albeit to a soundtrack of dissent from the confused.

As modernity and misfortune combined to condemn the Socceroos to defeat, however, there were other questionable decisions.

Most obviously, if rendered irrelevant by the decider, there was Samuel Umtiti’s inexplicable move to raise his hand above his head and connect with Aaron Mooy’s free kick. “A bad reflex,” said the Barcelona centre-back.

Mile Jedinak, who had already become the first man to captain Australia in two World Cups, levelled to become their first to convert a penalty in successive tournaments. It was nevertheless in vain.

“We didn’t have that bit of luck,” lamented the midfielder. “The boys have put an almighty effort in.”

And, in the bigger picture, there is the ongoing issue of Didier Deschamps’ decision-making. France prevailed but again looked less than the sum of their parts.

They were undistinguished for large swathes of the game, personified, perhaps, by the ultimately decisive but otherwise unimpressive Pogba.

Deschamps opted for a 4-3-3 formation that felt configured with the Manchester United man in mind. France fielded a supposedly fluent front three, shorn of a target man but including Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, but only the elusive Kylian Mbappe posed enough of a threat.

He became the youngest player to represent France in a major tournament. The 19-year-old has been a swift starter in his career, a trend he mirrored in the game when testing Mathew Ryan with a shot after 90 seconds.

Yet while Mbappe showed the audacity of youth with a couple of tricks, an impasse followed that bright beginning.

Australia illustrated the pragmatism of Bert van Marwijk, who does not come from the Dutch tradition of total football. A short-term appointment showed his skills as a defensive strategist.

A combative, industrious side formed a compact block. Their gameplan revolved around Mooy’s free kicks and, from one, Hugo Lloris spared Corentin Tolisso an own goal.

“We played a great game,” said Van Marwijk. “I can only give the players compliments. At least we deserved a draw.”

But they departed defeated. France, for only the second time in five World Cups, got off to a winning start. Yet the sense they are searching for a formula was highlighted when Olivier Giroud, the demoted and bandaged-up target man, came on for his usual sidekick Griezmann.

“We had fewer dangerous situations than usual,” admitted Deschamps. “We missed rhythm.”

They had insufficient intensity and not enough verve in the full-back positions. Injuries had limited Deschamps’ options but the conservative pair of Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard should be displaced by the more adventurous Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy.

“We can do a lot better,” Deschamps added. France need to. Decisions beckon.