Moscow (AFP) – France launched their World Cup campaign with victory against Australia on Saturday as the Video Assistant Referee system was used for the first time in World Cup history.
The Group C match in Kazan was goalless when Antoine Griezmann went down after a tackle in the second half. Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha did not award a penalty but after viewing the VAR footage, ruled it was a spot-kick and Griezmann gave France a 1-0 lead.
Minutes later the Socceroos drew level through a penalty of their own, although this time it was awarded by the referee, with Mile Jedinak coolly beating Hugo Lloris.
But Paul Pogba won a tight match for the 1998 champions when his shot bounced over the line off the crossbar in the 81st minute.
VAR has been used to varying degrees of success in Serie A and the German Bundesliga, while FIFA used the system at the Confederations Cup in Russia last year.
The technology is used in what are considered “game-changing” situations, such as a goal, penalty or red card, and can also be used to help referees with cases of mistaken identity.
– Messi World Cup bid –
Lionel Messi’s bid for World Cup redemption begins on Saturday when he leads Argentina against tiny Iceland.
Messi’s eternal rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, made history on Friday when he became only the fourth player to score at four World Cups on his way to a hat-trick against Spain to earn a dramatic 3-3 draw.
His fellow superstar Messi, with whom he has monopolised the world player of the year award for a decade, is under immense pressure to secure his first major international trophy and make amends for Argentina’s painful loss to Germany in the 2014 final.
The Barcelona maestro was not born when the “Albiceleste” last tasted success in 1986 and, at almost 31, knows that time is running out.
If Messi’s Argentina are to overcome poor form and injury woes, the five-time world player of the year needs high-profile teammates such as Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain to fire.
“I am convinced Argentina will show we are one of the best teams in the world,” coach Jorge Sampaoli said ahead of the Group D game.
They face Iceland, who say they fear no-one in their first ever appearance in a World Cup finals, at Moscow’s Spartak stadium.
Spurred on by their fans’ thunderous “Viking clap”, Iceland famously dumped England out of Euro 2016 and coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said he wanted more of the same.
“We’ve shown that if we work together as one unit, like we’ve been doing, then anything is achievable and it won’t come as a shock,” he said.
The day’s action also pits Peru against Denmark.
Peru’s Paolo Guerrero will look to prove his drug-ban controversy is behind him in the other Group C game against the Danes.
Flamengo forward Guerrero had a 14-month ban for testing positive for cocaine overturned just weeks before the tournament began and celebrated by scoring twice in a friendly against Saudi Arabia.
Croatia take on African powerhouse Nigeria in Saturday’s final match in Kaliningrad in Group D, providing a possible test of FIFA’s determination to keep racism out of its showpiece tournament in Russia.
Croatia will field Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic against Nigeria but the focus is likely to be on the reception local fans give the Africans.
Racism has dogged the Russian game for decades and FIFA last month fined the national football association over chants directed at black players during a friendly against France.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said there had been no issues so far and he did not expect that to change.
“We all are sure that there will not be any problems for the Nigerian players because the atmosphere we felt already arriving in Russia was very good,” he said.