Aziz Behich’s late own goal broke Australian resistance as France started with a win in Group C and history was made with the World Cup’s first VAR goal.
The video assistant referee penalised Australia’s Josh Risdon for a sliding challenge on Antoine Griezmann, allowing the Atletico Madrid forward to dispatch a penalty, the first World Cup goal influenced by VAR.
However, after French defender Samuel Umtiti handled Aaron Mooy’s free-kick, Australia equalised through Mile Jedinak’s penalty in Kazan.
And they looked on course to hold one of the pre-tournament favourites until Paul Pogba’s lobbed effort deflected off Australia full-back Behich and the crossbar to fall inches over the goalline.
Amid the large clusters of gold provided by around 10,000 Socceroos supporters, France initially assumed control of this Group C opener despite the long journey from their Moscow training base.
Kylian Mbappe sparkled early on, racing beyond the Australia backline to test goalkeeper Mat Ryan after 93 seconds.
That sparked a concerted offensive by Didier Deschamps’ team but Australia stemmed the tide as the half progressed.
Going behind stirred Australia into a response in the second period and Aston Villa’s Jedinak converted a penalty after Umtiti had senselessly handled another dangerous Mooy delivery.
But the late winner, confirmed by goalline technology, ensured France opened the tournament with three points.
Denmark beat Peru in Saturday’s other Group C match.
Technology provided the talking points in an otherwise flat encounter that failed to inspire.
In a frenetic four minutes during the second half, which was totally out of keeping with the rest of the game, VAR was used twice to influence goals.
Risdon was the first player to be adversely affected with a penalty awarded a minute after the Australia full-back appeared to touch the ball onto Griezmann before the striker went down.
Bert van Marwijk’s side then received a penalty of their own, with Umtiti’s handball confirmed by Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha after it had been checked on VAR.
To round off proceedings, Pogba’s deflected shot was given by goalline technology, with Australian goalkeeper Ryan pleading to play on.
France fail to fire
While all the pre-match talk was of France’s much vaunted front three, Ousmane Dembele, Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe were largely ineffective.
Mbappe – the youngest Frenchman to play in a major tournament at 19 years and six months – offered the most danger but was contained by a well-drilled Australian defence, coupled with a plodding French midfield.
Griezmann did score from the penalty spot, but he looked a shadow of the player who scored seven times and provided two assists in his past two major tournaments.
Both he and Dembele were withdrawn after 70 minutes after largely anonymous displays.
Olivier Giroud, Griezmann’s replacement, struggled to get involved but he crucially laid the ball into Pogba, advancing from midfield, for the winning goal.
Brave Australia worthy of a draw
Following the shock resignation of coach Ange Postecoglou in November, who said the job had taken its toll both “personally and professionally”, Van Marwijk has had limited time to prepare.
However, while he has had just four friendlies in charge, his side looked well worthy of earning a creditable draw.
Australia are aiming to emulate their achievements in 2006, the only time they have previously qualified from the group stages in four appearances at the finals.
With Huddersfield’s Mooy marshalling midfield alongside Jedinak, they were compact and well organised.
Mooy’s deliveries also offered an attacking thrust and France goalkeeper Lloris saved well after a dangerous free-kick was flicked towards his own goal by France midfielder Corentin Tolisso.
While Australia may have only managed two victories in 14 fixtures at the World Cup, there was enough promise in this showing to suggest they can approach their next game against Denmark on Thursday with optimism.