KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - Australia coach Bert van Marwijk said his gutsy team should count themselves just plain unlucky to have gone down 2-1 to France in their World Cup opener on Saturday and can look forward with confidence to their remaining Group C matches.
The Socceroos looked transformed from the team that laboured through a long qualifying campaign and two playoffs just to get to Russia as they competed manfully with one of the pre-tournament favourites at the Kazan Arena.
An Antoine Griezmann penalty awarded after reference to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) and a late, deflected Paul Pogba strike secured the win for France, with Mile Jedinak having converted a spot-kick for the men in green and gold.
“They beat us with us such a lucky goal,” said the Dutchman.
“I was disappointed. But I think we can be proud of the way we played against one of the best teams in the world.
“Nobody had expected that we could play like this against France,” he added. “I think there were a lot of moments they didn’t know what to do any more ...”
After a nervous start where the pace of the French forwards looked like overwhelming the Australia defence, the Socceroos worked their way back into the contest and had the best chance to score before halftime.
The second half was a battle of equals and ultimately decided by the narrowest of margins, Josh Risdon’s trailing foot catching Griezmann for the penalty and Pogba’s shot deflected onto the crossbar and landing centimetres over the line.
“I cannot blame any of my players, I can only give them compliments. We at least deserved a draw,” Van Marwijk added.
“When you see this game, you must have confidence for the rest of this tournament, that’s normal. The way we worked the last four weeks, that gave me confidence.”
The rest of the tournament for Australia will be matches against Denmark on June 21 in Samara and Peru in Sochi five days later, unless they can get the results they need to get into the knockout stages for the first time since 2006.
While the team that achieved that in Germany was Australia’s “golden generation”, the current crop are anything but and Van Marwijk has to take great credit for his work since taking over as recently as March.
“I think everybody could see today that this today is a different team,” he said.
“One of the most positive things also is that we showed guts and we showed that we could be ourselves. The next game is another game but it gives us confidence, I think.”
Editing by Ian Ransom