Tokyo - Brave Argentina were left in tears after missing a last-minute penalty that would have completed a sensational comeback victory in their Rugby World Cup opener against France on Saturday.

As it happened: France v Argentina

The Pumas almost overturned a 17-point half-time deficit in the crunch Pool C clash in Tokyo, only for Emiliano Boffelli to fluff a late penalty, allowing France to win a cliffhanger 23-21 and leave Argentina contemplating an early flight home.

Benjamin Urdapilleta kicked two second-half penalties, the second on the hour mark giving Argentina a two-point lead.

But long-range specialist Boffelli stepped up to take the last-ditch kick with several French players unable to watch, hooking it just wide.

"I was annoyed because I knew I didn't have the distance," admitted Urdapilleta.

"I would have loved to kick it but if would have been a miracle if I'd been given it and not Emi," he added, praising his team mates for their effort after being outplayed by France in the first half.

"We knew we needed to get a quick try in order to ask them questions and we did that. We got right back into it, but then they hit back and in the end we missed the chance to win the game."

It was a heartbreaking end for 2015 World Cup semi-finalists, who were sent out to battle with an emotional message of support from football icon Diego Maradona.

The Pumas will now likely have to beat title-chasing England to avoid crashing out at the group stage.

"We didn't give up right to the end but it's a very bitter feeling," said flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez.

"We went close but we made mistakes too. Now we have three very important games coming up and we will have to play like we did in that second half if we want to win all three. We have a lot of hard work to do."

France, who had lost on two of the previous three occasions they had run into Argentina in the World Cup, dominated the first half, producing some champagne rugby to score tries through Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont.

But just as the three-time runners-up looked to be showing the sort of steely resolve that swept Les Bleus to the 2011 final, their form suddenly deserted them.

Guido Petti and Julian Montoya crashed over to trigger panic in the French ranks until Argentina's fightback was halted by a Camille Lopez drop goal 10 minutes from time.

"I'm relieved to win, but I'm not satisfied with the performance," said French head coach Jacques Brunel.

"There is plenty of room for improvement."

France squandered a 16-point halftime lead against Wales in the Six Nations earlier this year and captain Guilhem Guirado said he feared history could repeat itself.

"I thought we were going to die several times tonight," he sighed.

"The game should never have ended like that, but I'm happy for the lads - for once we were on the winning side of a crazy game like that."

Scorers:

Argentina

Tries: Guido Petti, Julian Montoya

Conversion: Nicholas Sanchez

Penalties: Sanchez, Benjamin Urdapilleta (2)

France

Tries: Gael Fickou, Antoine Dupont

Conversions: Romain Ntamack (2)

Penalties: Ntamack (2)

Drop goal: Camille Lopez

Teams:

France

15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Virimi Vakatawa, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot

Substitutes: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Thomas Ramos

Argentina

15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro

Substitutes: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Santiago Carreras