It is often said that it takes a little bit of luck to win a World Cup, but there is every chance that France might have used up all of theirs in the opening game as they beat Australia 2-1 in Kazan on Saturday.
With a controversial opener decided by VAR and a winner which took a huge deflection off Socceroos defender Aziz Behich, Didier Deschamps’ side got more than their display arguably deserved against a belligerent Aussie side.
The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee into football has been far from smooth sailing, and the moment FIFA insisted on its use at the World Cup there was a fear that confusion would reign in Russia.
On Saturday that came to fruition following the award of a penalty for an apparent foul by Josh Risdon on Antoine Griezmann in the early stages of the second half.
Referee Andres Cunha initially waved away French appeals for a spot-kick and play continued for around a minute before the ball went out of play and he was encouraged by VAR Mauro Vigliano to take another look on the pitch-side screen.
A full two minutes on from the incident itself, Cunha returned to signal a penalty and Griezmann slotted home. History was made, but the clunky, exhaustive nature of the system was exactly what many people had feared going into the showpiece tournament.
On the greatest stage of all, 41,279 fans who have invested eye-watering amounts of money to attend a World Cup were treated to a period of dead play and the ‘spectacle’ of watching an official staring at a screen.
It should have been the lifeline a tepid France side needed, but somehow they undid all of their good work within five minutes as Samuel Umtiti made the astonishing decision to throw an arm in the way of a right-wing cross from Aaron Mooy. Mile Jedinak levelled up, and the Australia fans will have felt a sense of justice.
But France got another slice of fortune late on as Paul Pogba advanced towards the area in an attempt to finish off a flowing move. The Manchester United midfielder’s touch flew off Behich and looped over the flat-footed Mat Ryan to win it for the French.
Deschamps had warned before the game that his side would need to approach the match with humility, pointing to his country’s winless group-stage exits in 2002 and 2010 as examples of how badly things can go wrong without application.
This ought to be a much better France side than those, but with Pogba sluggish and no creativity coming from Corentin Tolisso or N’Golo Kante they had little to offer in midfield. Meanwhile, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe were quiet in attack and other than his penalty Griezmann also disappeared after a lively opening 10 minutes.
There is therefore plenty still to work on for Deschamps and his side, just as there is for those overlooking the continued development of the VAR system. But in France’s case in particular they cannot expect to play so poorly again and get away with it.
World Cups might be about peaking at the right time, but on this evidence they have a lot to work out in their remaining Group C games against Peru and Denmark before the real business of knockout football gets underway.