One Year On | FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: France v Australia

A tough defeat, but Australia proved they can match it with the best

10pm, Tuesday November 2022. 40,875 fans in the Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar, millions more watching in Australia. The referee blows his whistle. The Socceroos 2022 World Cup campaign kicks off.

The opponents – reigning World Champions France. Not much was expected from the Australian squad.

The Legend of the Socceroo, by Ray Richards

Being the underdogs had never put any Socceroos squad off before, but this France squad was full of superstars.

“I remember just warming up and looking over and just seeing some of their star players and you just pinch yourself, because you dream of these moments, but actually being there is a different thing,” Cameron Devlin said.

“Looking over and seeing those players and then in the stands was my mum and dad, it was just surreal.”

Jason Cummings added: “The national anthems before the game at the big stadium, the fireworks, well, it was honestly, it was like a dream. It was an inception.”

The Australian starting eleven featured Mathew Ryan in goal, a back four of Nathaniel Atkinson, Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles and Aziz Behich. In the midfield was Jackson Irvine, Aaron Mooy and Riley McGree with Matthew Leckie and Craig Goodwin operating out wide, Mitchell Duke led the line.

Having featured as a substitute in all three of Australia’s games at the 2018 world cup, Jackson Irvine was embracing a ‘very different role’ this time around.

As he prepared to start his first World Cup game, off the back of being a mainstay throughout the qualification journey, he said it was a big task coming up against France.

“You’re coming up against the defending World Champions in the first game,” he said.

“To go into that game, first up, I think was probably the baptism of fire we needed. And the fact that we started the game so brightly and positively.”

Confidently, the Socceroos took it to Les Bleus and shocked perhaps the entire world by going a goal up in the ninth minute of the match.

Goodwin smashed the ball into the roof of the net after he was set up by a superb Leckie cross to the back post, the play started with a long, lobbed pass from Souttar.

“It was an incredible moment when the ball hit the net,” Goodwin said as he looked back at the goal.

“The emotion that comes out, it's not just the emotion of that moment, it's everything that kind of has led to that moment, not only in the overcoming the injuries to make the squad, but you know, your whole career.”

It was a moment that took Goodwin back to him kicking the ball around in a park for Munno Para City Football Club on the outskirts of Adelaide.

“In those moments, you are kind of just that little boy that's in your backyard, you know, kicking a ball around and dreaming of those moments,” he said.

“To be able to do it on the world stage and then to have my family there and in the stands and seeing them jumping around was a really special moment.”

Irvine added that the goal was a moment that will live on in the memory of Australian football fans for some time to come.

“It was pure elation, and I honestly felt it was coming. We’d started that game so well, on the front foot in every aspect and were well worthy of that opening goal at the time I thought,” he said.

“It was a huge moment obviously for Goody individually, but for everybody, for Australian football, scoring at the World Cups is a huge deal.”

From the bench, Devlin said: “It was mental, I went crazy on the bench, everyone did.”

And Cummings added: “When Goody scored that first goal you know it was a good buzz, I think that told us that we deserve to be here, we can do it, we can score against these big teams.”

Australia’s positive start was very nearly improved on in the 22nd minute when Duke launched a long-range effort that soared just to the right of the post with the keeper Hugo Lloris beaten.

“It's the one that went missing, unfortunately,” Duke said.

“Because if that went in that would have been like one of my best goals in my career anyway, from how far out I was and things like that, and then in that setting would have just been insane.”

Mitch Duke fires just wide of the France goal at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
"The one that went missing." Mitch Duke fires inches wide of Hugo Lloris and the French goal. Photo: Aleksander Jason / Socceroos

Five minutes later France had an equaliser, as Adrien Rabiot rose highest to head home Theo Hernandez’s looping cross.

And in the 32nd minute it was 2-1 to the world champions, this time Olivier Giroud tapping into an empty net off Rabiot’s cutback.

The French side had settled into the game and hit back. Hard. But Australia didn’t roll over and were disappointed not to go into the break level.

In first half added time, Irvine found himself with a free header in the box and nodded it across goal, where the ball unfortunately hit the wrong side of the post and bounced away. So close.

“I sat on the bus at the end of the game, and I thought ‘if you score that one you go in at halftime at 2-2. You just never know - it's potentially a different looking game,” Irvine said.

In the second half France showed truly why they were the world’s best as they scored two more goals, one for Kylian Mbappe and a second for Giroud. Full time 4-1.

“The game got away from us in the end, but it showed everybody that we can compete at this level, but also, the consequences of when you let players of this quality get on top of you as well,” Irvine added.

Souttar reinforced that notion, as he said: “The key message was that we've got to learn from the mistakes that we made in the first game and make sure we don't make them again in the second game.

“It was a great learning curve for the lads, and I think we really showed that in the rest of the tournament.”

Up next, Tunisia, where three points was vital.