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The Socceroos were pummelled by France. How will they respond?

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Going into the opening game against France there was speculation about how Socceroos coach Graham Arnold would replace Martin Boyle. The winger was officially ruled out of the squad after not being able to prove his fitness.

It’s a big blow to the Socceroos.

Boyle, who plays for Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership, was given until the last minute to prove his fitness but unfortunately fell agonisingly short. Unable to recover from his knee injury in time for the World Cup means Australia will compete without the 29-year-old.

It’s a bitter blow for the Scottish-born Aussie, who also missed out on representing Australia in the Asian Cup after an injury in a warm-up match.

Arnold decided to go with Adelaide United captain Craig Goodwin in the starting 11.

And less than ten minutes into the game, that seemed to be a clever choice. Just like he had replaced goalkeeper Mat Ryan with Andrew Redmayne in the penalty shootout against Peru to qualify, this appeared to be another genius move.

Kylian Mbappe of France controls the ball against Nathaniel Atkinson of Australia during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between France and Australia at Al Janoub Stadium on November 22, 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar. (Photo by Patrick Smith - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

A long pass by defender Harry Souttar found Mathew Leckie. The Melbourne City forward-midfielder then gave a sensational cross to Goodwin that passed the defenders, and Goodwin finished it off superbly into the top right-hand corner of the net.

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It was an absolute beauty.

Aussies watching everywhere were celebrating. Pure elation. And after Saudi Arabia surprised Argentina with a 2-1 win over the South American giants only hours earlier, one could only dream of a Socceroos shock over the world champions.

For the next 20 minutes a quiet confidence grew as the Aussies maintained their lead.

But unfortunately it seemed to kick the French into gear, and they responded emphatically. Led by Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud, they showed their class and why they are the world champions.

By half-time they had scored twice through Adrien Rabiot and Giroud to take a 2-1 lead into the main break.

Australia almost levelled the match just before the half-time break but agonisingly fell short. Riley McGree gave an excellent cross deep on the left side in extra time, and Jackson Irvine’s header bounced down and was denied only by the woodwork, so there was a lot of positivity at half-time.

However, the second half was disappointing, with the world champions scoring another two goals while Socceroos seemed to go into their shell. A blue wave swept over the field as the French ran away with the game.

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Australia ended up going down 4-1.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

In the 68th minute Mbappe’s great work finally paid off, scoring a beauty. Three minutes later Giroud scored his second and France’s fourth to put the game beyond doubt.

One way of looking at it is that it takes four years to qualify for a World Cup. Only the top 32 teams in the world qualify. There are proud soccer nations like Italy and Peru that missed out this year. And we shouldn’t be disappointed – after all, France are the world champions.

“Yeah, look, at the end of the day they’re a quality side. They’re world champions for a reason,” Arnold said.

But on the flip side Australia have qualified for their sixth World Cup, this being their fifth consecutive appearance, and as former Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Bosnich said, we’ve only progressed once to the Round of 16.

“Five World Cup appearances are all well and good, but what? One last-16 place in over 100 years. So what are you going to do about that? That’s the biggest question,” the former Socceroos star said.

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It’s a damning assessment of Australian junior soccer pathways.

Arnold said Mitch Duke copped a hit on his hip but there are no major injury concerns.

After a promising start, it was disappointing to see the Socceroos capitulate in the way they did. And maybe it was the reality check we needed – the challenge Australia needed to realise what they needed to do to match it with the best in the world.

But there’s no time to dwell on the heartbreak and devastation of this loss. Matches come around quickly in the World Cup and the Socceroos have a chance to bounce back this weekend.

Tunisia drew with Denmark in a nil-all draw. This opens the door for the Aussies to still get through to the Round of 16. But it will be hard work. Australia will need to win and make up goal difference.

And they’ll be feeling flat right now, but they need to pick themselves up quickly.

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Australia’s next game against Tunisia is on Saturday night. Their final clash in Group D will be against Denmark next Thursday.

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