Olivier Giroud joined Thierry Henry as France’s all-time leading goalscorer with a brace as holders France recovered to beat Australia 4-1 and get their defence of the World Cup off to a winning start Tuesday.
Australia took a shock lead at Al Janoub Stadium with the game just nine minutes old when Craig Goodwin scored.
France, whose build-up to the tournament was marred by injuries, saw left-back Lucas Hernandez come off hurt in the move that led to that goal.
However, they recovered to equalise through Adrien Rabiot before Giroud put them ahead with an easy finish in the 32nd minute for his 50th international goal.
Kylian Mbappe got his name on the scoresheet in the second half and Giroud sealed the win to equal Henry’s record tally of 51 goals for France.
The win leaves them top of Group D after rivals Denmark and Tunisia drew 0-0 in Doha earlier.
At the age of 36, veteran AC Milan striker Giroud, who has 115 caps, is the oldest player to score for France at a World Cup.
Yet he almost certainly would not have been playing here had Karim Benzema been fit.
Instead, the withdrawal of the Ballon d’Or winner with a thigh injury on the eve of the tournament has played into the hands of Giroud, who was a key player for coach Didier Deschamps in France’s triumphant 2018 World Cup campaign but didn’t score in Russia.
It is not just Benzema who is missing for Les Bleus, with Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante –- their starting midfield duo four years ago –- also out of the tournament.
Centre-back Raphael Varane was not risked having not played since suffering a leg injury playing for Manchester United a month ago.
That meant Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate –- with nine caps between them –- played together in central defence while Rabiot joined Aurelien Tchouameni in midfield.
Hernandez injury blow
Australia stunned the world champions by scoring an early opener.
Mathew Leckie controlled the ball on the right and escaped Lucas Hernandez before delivering a low ball across the face of goal for Goodwin to finish into the roof of the net.
Hernandez hurt his right knee trying to stop Leckie, although there did not appear to be any contact between the players.
The Bayern Munich defender was helped off, with his brother Theo coming on.
The younger Hernandez did not have the best introduction, giving the ball away and allowing Mitch Duke to hit a shot from range that flew just wide.
Yet he played a part in the 27th-minute equaliser –- Antoine Griezmann’s right-wing corner was cleared but the ball came to Hernandez on the left and his cross was headed in by Rabiot.
Five minutes later Rabiot was involved again as France went ahead, hounding Nathaniel Atkinson out of possession on the French left and playing a one-two with Mbappe before teeing up Giroud.
A Jackson Irvine header that hit the post in first-half stoppage time was a reminder that Australia could still threaten, but France ran away with the game after the break.
Griezmann had a shot cleared off the line just before Mbappe made it 3-1 midway through the second half, as he headed in off a post from Ousmane Dembele’s cross.
Mbappe then turned provider as France got their fourth in the 71st minute, crossing for Giroud to head in a historic goal.
After all the injuries, and after seeing what happened to Argentina earlier, this was a good evening for France.
“That is the responsibility of leadership and as a result I will be handing over the leadership,” Morrison said.
Noting that voter support had fallen for the major parties, the prime minister said Australians had suffered “great upheaval” over the past few years, which have been marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, drought, bushfires and floods.
“It has imposed a heavy price on our country and on all Australians. And I think all Australians have felt that deeply,” he said.
Morrison’s voice cracked with emotion as he thanked his wife Jennifer and his daughters, “the loves of my life”.
“I have no doubt under strong leadership of our coalition, three years from now I am looking forward to the return of a coalition government.”
Australia’s defence minister on Sunday accused China of paying bribes for international deals but refused to say whether corruption played a role in Beijing’s newly signed defence pact with the Solomon Islands.
Peter Dutton made the allegations as his conservative government faced questions in the run-up to May 21 general elections about how China apparently outmanoeuvred Australia by securing the agreement.
The deal shocked the Solomon Islands’ traditional allies Australia and the United States, which fear it may give China a military foothold in the South Pacific less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Australia’s coast.
“The Chinese don’t play by our rules,” Dutton said.
“If you look at what has happened in Africa, there are corrupt payments being made,” he told Sky News Australia. “We can never compete with that sort of playbook. We have values and we have the rule of law that we abide by.”
Asked specifically if he believed corrupt payments were made to forge China’s deal with the Solomon Islands, which was announced by Beijing on April 19, the minister said he could not comment.
“The reality is that China has changed,” he added.
“China’s incredibly aggressive acts of foreign interference, the preparedness to pay bribes to beat other countries to deals: that’s the reality of modern China.”
A draft of the pact shocked countries in the region when it was leaked last month, particularly measures that would allow Chinese naval deployments to the Solomons.
A White House delegation visited the Solomon Islands capital Honiara on Friday to warn of repercussions if China was to establish a permanent military presence in the Pacific nation under the new agreement.
The White House said the officials had told Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that the recently signed pact had “potential regional security implications” for Washington and its allies.
“If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly,” the White House said in a statement.
‘No Military Base’
National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink led the delegation, which also included Pentagon officials.
According to the White House statement, “Sogavare reiterated his specific assurances that there would be no military base, no long-term presence, and no power projection capability, as he has said publicly”.
Sogavare’s government severed ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favour of diplomatic relations with China, unlocking investment but stoking inter-island rivalries.
Last November, protests against Sogavare’s rule sparked violent riots in the capital, during which much of the city’s Chinatown was torched.
While the unrest was partly fuelled by poverty and unemployment, anti-China sentiment was also cited as playing a role.
When asked about China’s influence in the Pacific, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Friday that Beijing was exerting “enormous pressure” on leaders of Pacific island nations.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in turn accused “Australian politicians” of “coercive diplomacy” in the region.
The death toll from week-long floods battering Australia’s east coast rose to 20 on Tuesday, after the bodies of a man and a woman were discovered in floodwaters in Sydney.
Police said the pair were believed to be a missing mother and son whose car was abandoned in a stormwater canal.
Tens of thousands of Sydney residents have been told to evacuate their homes as severe storms and flash flooding inundated swathes of Australia’s largest city Tuesday.
The national weather bureau warned of “a tough 48 hours ahead” for Sydney, with 60,000 people subject to evacuation orders and warnings, and the city’s Manly Dam beginning to spill.
Intense rainfall across Sydney flooded bridges and homes, swept away cars and even collapsed the roofs of a shopping centre and a supermarket.
In the riverside suburb of Georges Hall vehicles were semi-submerged and police had to rescue people stranded in their cars by rising floodwaters.
– A ‘watery’ Black Summer –
State emergency services have been stretched thin as the torrential rain and intense storms continued into a second week — with flood warnings in place Tuesday for the entire 2,000-kilometre (1,250-mile) coastline of New South Wales.
“It’s very much the watery equivalent of the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires,” emergency services spokesperson Phil Campbell told AFP.
In the past week the scale of the damage to property and wildlife has been similar to those devastating bushfires, he said, which ravaged Australia’s east for months in late 2019 and early 2020.
“We have also had a similar effect on communities in terms of dislocation with roads closed, infrastructure damaged, power outages,” Campbell said.
In the past 24 hours, emergency services have been called to 100 flood rescues across the state, a number that is expected to rise as the full force of the storms bears down on Sydney Tuesday.
In the city’s north, flood researchers were evacuated from their lab as water from the nearby Manly Dam began to spill over into suburban areas.
The University of New South Wales facility uses water from the dam to run large-scale experiments about one-in-100- and one-in-1,000-year flooding scenarios.
“Ironically, the conditions were happening just outside,” researcher Mitchell Harley told AFP.
When he arrived at work in the morning, floodwaters were already rising but soon the downpour caused “significant flooding” in the lab.
“We haven’t seen impacts of that magnitude in the 60 years of the laboratory,” Harley said.
He said the flooding that had inundated Sydney in recent days showed the need to consider the impact of climate change on the coastal city of more than five million people.
“We have a lot of ageing infrastructure in Sydney which were designed for historical flood events,” he said.
“A lot of this infrastructure needs to be re-evaluated in the context of climate change.”
– ‘No way to rebuild’ –
In the northern reaches of New South Wales — where floodwaters this week destroyed homes, washed away cars and stranded hundreds of locals on their roofs — a long, slow clean-up is under way.
There are 800 people in emergency accommodation in the state’s Northern Rivers region alone, said state emergency services commissioner Charlene York.
According to emergency services, almost half of the 5,000 flood-ravaged homes inspected in the region in the wake of the disaster are uninhabitable.
In Mullumbimby, a town cut off from phone service, internet and outside help for days by the floods, local Casey Whelan told AFP that “lots of people in my street can’t get flood insurance”.
“They will have no way to rebuild,” he said.
Australia has been at the sharp end of climate change, with droughts, deadly bushfires, bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and floods becoming more common and intense as global weather patterns change.