Olivier Giroud answers France call as dazzling deputies display Didier Deschamps depth in World Cup opener

In fine company: Only Thierry Henry has scored as many goals for France as Olivier Giroud (AP)
In fine company: Only Thierry Henry has scored as many goals for France as Olivier Giroud (AP)

Four years ago in Russia, Olivier Giroud was an integral part of France’s World Cup success, despite being a centre-forward who did not score.

Here in Qatar, he looked set for a more peripheral role, but when summoned from the fringes to lead the line following Karim Benzema’s injury, France’s Monsieur Dependable answered the call once more.

Giroud’s double here led France’s comeback from a goal behind to start the defence of their crown with an emphatic 4-1 win over Australia and moved an occasionally maligned figure level with the legendary Thierry Henry on 51 goals at the top of the country’s all-time scoring charts.

Benzema’s absence is the headline on an injury list that would cripple just about any squad at this tournament but the world champions’ deputies aren’t half bad.

Without Paris Saint-Germain’s Presnel Kimpembe and with Raphael Varane not yet fit to start, Didier Deschamps still had such quality centre-back options that Jules Kounde and William Saliba were left on the bench.

Without Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, there was still no room for Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavinga in midfield as Adrien Rabiot, who rejected a place on Deschamps’ standby list four years ago, scored one goal and made another.

Up front, missing not only Benzema, but also Bundesliga top scorer Christopher Nkunku, Deschamps could still turn to Giroud.

Take the equivalent players - say, Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice and John Stones - out of England’s squad and Gareth Southgate may not have bothered leaving Heathrow.

Even at full-back, a problem position at times during Deschamps’ lengthy tenure, when Lucas Hernandez was injured in the process of trying to stop the cross for Craig Goodwin’s surprise opener, his brother Theo was summoned and set up Rabiot’s leveller with a delicious cross, the highlight of an excellent display.

Only five minutes later, Kylian Mbappe’s exquisite touch put Rabiot in to tee-up a simple finish for Giroud, the forward guiding into an empty net for a landmark 50th goal for Les Blues but only his second at the World Cup. After the break, he almost equalled Henry’s record in style, scissor-kicking just wide from another perfect Hernandez cross, before eventually getting there with a trademark header from Mbappe’s ball.

In between, Mbappe had opened his account for the tournament with a fine header of his own, straining every sinew to get to Ousmane Dembele’s cross ahead of the giant Harry Souttar and steer in off the post.

Giroud was withdrawn on 89 minutes and, aware how much stoppage time would follow (just the seven minutes this time), left the field a little reluctantly, sensing the chance for a hat-trick and historic goal no52.

There was a knowing smile and an embrace with Deschamps, though, satisfied that with France on this kind of form, it will not be far away.