KAZAN – Advances in technology and old-fashioned bad luck conspired against the Socceroos on Saturday night (AEST), with Bert van Marwijk’s men beaten 2-1 by France in a gripping and controversial FIFA World Cup clash.
Defeat was cruel on a well organised Australia, who gave one of the tournament favourites a scare before Paul Pogba’s fortuitous 81st-minute goal settled the contest.
Pogba’s strike deflected off left-back Aziz Behich and looped over Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan, hitting the underside of the crossbar and bouncing just inches over the goal line – a decision confirmed by technology.
It was a cruel stroke of luck against an Australia side that had already suffered from the first FIFA World Cup goal influenced by the controversial Video Assistant Referee [VAR] system.
In a good position to judge whether Josh Risdon’s tackle on France star Antoine Griezmann was legal or not, referee Andres Cunha turned down penalty appeals in the 54th minute before the game was stopped, with a spot-kick – that Griezmann dispatched – eventually given.
More penalty drama followed as, just four minutes later, Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak levelled from the spot, his goal coming after France defender Samuel Umtiti’s blatant handball, but it was not to be for the men in green and gold.
Behich summed up the mood in the Australia camp when talking to The New Daily post-match.
“I thought we deserved much more … we put in a good performance,” he said.
“I did get a touch on it [Pogba’s goal]. It was a bit unlucky … it was just over the line. [They] couldn’t have had any more luck on their side for that one.”
Australia forward Andrew Nabbout queried why VAR intervened for the first penalty given the decision was “not a clear and obvious error” and winger Mathew Leckie shared a similar view.
“His [Cunha] first decision was play on and I think unless it’s really, really clear, he should leave the decision as it was,” Leckie told The New Daily.
Coach van Marwijk said his first reaction was that it was not a penalty but preferred to talk about the pride he had in his players.
“We showed guts and we showed that we could be ourselves … it gives us confidence,” he told reporters.
“The way we wanted to play, they did it for 95 per cent. I cannot blame any of my players. I only can give them compliments.”
An early scare
France burst out of the blocks and could have scored in just the second minute, with Ryan alert to tip Kylian Mbappe’s shot wide, and he remained busy, also denying Griezmann and Pogba in the sort of spell that indicated a one-sided rout.
But Australia soon settled and could well have taken the lead, Leckie’s flick-on header from an Aaron Mooy free-kick producing a smart save from France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Clear-cut chances were hard to find in the remainder of the first half, though, with the excellent Trent Sainsbury and Mark Milligan doing a superb job in the heart of Australia’s defence.
The game exploded into life after Griezmann’s opener, as another smart Mooy free-kick – Australia’s best source of attacking joy throughout – led to Umtiti’s handball and Jedinak’s swift riposte.
The Socceroos captain – who was in doubt to start – sent Lloris the wrong way from the penalty spot to delight the significant Australian contingent in the Kazan crowd.
But Australia’s joy was short-lived as Pogba’s late slice of luck left the Socceroos with a difficult task to get out of Group C in Russia.
Also on day three at the Cup, Lionel Messi missed a penalty as Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw against Iceland in Moscow, Alfred Finnbogason cancelling out Sergio Aguero’s brilliant opener.
And in the other match in Australia’s Group C, Denmark prevailed over Peru 1-0 with a goal by Yussuf Poulsen after Peru had earlier missed a penalty from the spot.
A pair of football heavyweights begin bids for Russian success on day four but it is Costa Rica and Serbia who get things under way from 10pm AEST.
Reigning champions Germany then face Mexico (1am) in the SBS fixture before tournament favourites Brazil meet Switzerland (4am).