Socceroos coach: ‘He didn’t know’
IF ever Al Pacino's legendary "game of inches" speech from Any Given Sunday applied to a sporting contest it was this.
Australia was denied what could have been its greatest World Cup victory - or at least a group-shaping draw - by the barest of margins in a 2-1 defeat to France on Saturday.
If Josh Risdon was able to fling his leg out just one more inch perhaps the contact he made with the ball before bringing down Antoine Griezmann would have been definitive during that gut-wrenching video review.
If similarly unfortunate fullback Aziz Behich could have stretched just an inch further he may have cleared a ball Paul Pogba managed to loop into Mat Ryan's net.
No doubt there were plenty of ifs from a French point of view too, but the reality is Australia contained an attacking unit featuring the world-class talents of Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele for most of the match.
With a surprising level of comfort for long periods too.
"(I'm) proud and disappointed," Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk said. "We gave a very good performance. Nobody expected that we could play like this against France. I think there were a lot of moments they didn't know what to do anymore. The players of France, they said it themselves. So that's a big compliment for us."
The expected onslaught, which appeared on the cards when the French directed four shots on target inside the first eight minutes, never quite happened.
An Australian team determined not to suffer the all but tournament-ending torpedoes their predecessors had at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups - when we conceded twice inside the first half hour at both competitions - were compact and committed early.
The closest either team came to scoring in the first half was when France's Corentin Tolisso very nearly turned Mile Jedinak's glancing header into his own net.
SOCCEROOS COACH: 'HE DIDN'T KNOW'
But after another steady 15 minutes to open the second stanza, Australia's stoic display was undone when Aaron Mooy bought every piece of candy N'golo Kante was selling and France charged straight through the heart of our defence.
Risdon made a desperate lunge in an attempt to poke the ball out of harm's way but his boot caught the trailing leg of Griezmann and brought him to ground.
For a moment it appeared as though Australia had dodged a bullet as play continued but, in a move which drew a nervous groan from the Aussie supporters in the crowd, referee Andres Cunha blew his whistle and decided to take another look.
He rewatched the tackle on a pitch-side monitor before walking back on to the pitch and pointing to the spot. Van Marwijk remarkably accused the referee of being unsure.
"The body language was that he didn't know, from my position," van Marwijk said.
Griezmann left Mat Ryan wrong-footed and easily slotted home the opener, but within minutes Australia responded.
One of Aaron Mooy's ever-dangerous free kicks drew a brain fade from French defender Samuel Umtiti as he clearly lifted his hand to punch away the ball. Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak scored his 19th goal for his country from the spot and it was 1-1 with half an hour to play.
Australia didn't really look like scoring but France wasn't really either until Pogba, who had not been allowed to take his usual control of the midfield, poked home an 80th minute winner. "A lucky goal," van Marwijk said.
It said much about the way Australia was able to shut down the French - who will likely face heavy scrutiny in their homeland for a performance which doesn't suggest they're a legitimate threat to win this tournament - that Griezmann was named Man of the Match. There just weren't that many options among the winning team, largely because of the epic performances from Trent Sainsbury and Mark Milligan in the centre of Australia's defence.
"It was a highly difficult match, it was complicated, the Australian team was very good," French coach Didier Deschamps said.
"We were not quick enough (with our ball movement) and this favoured Australia."
But just like the Socceroos of 2006 know from their oh-so-close round of 16 defeat to Italy, you don't get anything for near-misses. It means Australia enters Thursday's game against Denmark with a hill to climb if its to progress past the group stage.
"When you see this game you must have confidence for the rest of the tournament, that's normal," van Marwijk said.
BERT'S FULL COMMENTS ON THE RISDON PENALTY
"I (haven't seen) it back on television. From my position, I couldn't see it really well, I thought at first it was no penalty …
"I hoped that maybe one time there will be a referee very honest. When you, in that moment, on your own, go to the video screen, I saw him standing there, the body language was that he didn't know, from my position, and then you have to take a decision: France or Australia?
"I got a lot of reactions and let's say from 10, seven people say penalty and three say no penalty. So I don't know, I have to see it. But it's very difficult. Also very difficult to decide for a referee with 50,000 people on his back to decide when he is doubting.
"On the other side, he was standing very close to the moment of the penalty and he directly said no penalty, he directly said go on. He's also a human being, everyone makes mistakes. But when you're 100 per cent sure it's no penalty and you go and you doubt … you have to ask him."