- World Cup 2022: Olivier Giroud goes from understudy to leading light as he equals France scoring record
Fifa World Cup
Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listings – Full coverage details
The evergreen Olivier Giroud may have arrived in Qatar as understudy to an A-lister but took on the starring role with ease as World Cup holders France laid down an ominous marker to their rivals by sweeping Australia aside.
Giroud’s original place in France coach Didier Deschamps’ plans was as back-up to Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, only for Real Madrid’s striker to be ruled out of the tournament after suffering a thigh injury shortly after arrival here.
It pushed Giroud on to centre stage, one he occupies in comfort after securing a World Cup winners’ medal in Moscow four years ago when France beat Croatia 4-2.
And the 36-year-old once again used the platform to demonstrate his enduring quality with two goals and deliver further proof that he is one of the most underrated strikers of his generation.
Giroud did it all in tandem with the brilliant Kylian Mbappe, who scored one, had a hand in two more and played with the sort of smile on his face that will send shivers through France’s future opponents.
Mbappe is one of the sport’s great global names and his World Cup opening was in sharp contrast to another of that elite group, Lionel Messi, who suffered the embarrassment of being part of the Argentina side who had fallen victim to one of the tournament’s biggest shocks when they lost to Saudi Arabia hours earlier.
Australia briefly threatened another surprise when they took the lead but with Mbappe a tormentor from the first whistle and Giroud slipping into his role to perfection, it was never going to last as the 4-1 scoreline confirms.
Mbappe played a part in the two Giroud goals that put the latter alongside Thierry Henry as France’s record scorer with 51 goals. He delivered an audacious backheel to release Adrien Rabiot, who set up a simple finish for Giroud to make it 2-1.
And then he got off the mark himself in this World Cup with a neat header for France’s third before crossing perfectly for Giroud to wrap up a very impressive opening salvo from the reigning champions.
The 23-year-old Mbappe will be the headline-grabber, understandably after this blistering display, but Giroud has always been happy living in the shadows with menace.
Giroud’s career is a testimony to his quality, even though he has often had to fight to get the credit he deserves. The true worth of this intelligent striker has been recognised late on in his playing career.
He won three FA Cups at Arsenal, added another with Chelsea in 2018, scored when they beat the Gunners in the 2019 Europa League Final and played a role as a key member of the squad that won the Champions League under then manager Thomas Tuchel in 2021.
Giroud’s habit of collecting silverware moved with him to AC Milan, where he won Serie A. The medals do the talking and he has his sights set on another in Qatar.
France are going into this tournament stripped of a host of key players but when the replacements have the experience and track record of Giroud it is little wonder Deschamps was so calm about the absentees.
He is without Benzema, defender Presnel Kimpembe, midfield duo Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, as well as £70m-rated RB Leipzig striker Christopher Nkunku.
And despite having those missing this was a powerful statement of intent that France will not give up their crown as world champions easily.
It certainly did not matter here as Mbappe hit the groove right away and the odd nervous moment at the back was compensated for by the masterclass in attack, spearheaded by Giroud.
France fell short and their pride was hurt by their Euro 2020 exit against Switzerland on penalties in the last 16. They are determined to make up for that in Qatar.
Mbappe will be the star name and he put all the recent upheaval and speculation about his future at Paris St-Germain to one side here.
He looked happy in his work as part of a France team that joined hands to take a bow in front of their celebrating fans after the final whistle as the clock ticked towards midnight in Qatar.
Giroud’s name was chanted loudly after his record-equalling goal, the extent of what he brings fully appreciated by supporters who have travelled out to Qatar with high expectations.
A good night for the holders. A bad one for those hoping to succeed them as world champions if the performances of Giroud and Mbappe are a measure of what is to come.