France vs Nigeria comment World Cup 2014: A player reborn he may be, but Patrice Evra is still the weak link for the French
France 2 Nigeria 0
Monday 30 June 2014
It’s interesting to look back on if only because the recent past contrasts so starkly with a present of promise and even fulfilled potential for France. Indeed at this early point in their evolution and rise from their own ashes, a quarter-final appearance can be considered a mission accomplished for the team and redemption of sorts for one man.
It was only months after Patrice Evra stood out as the leader of an ill-advised coup that ripped apart his country’s 2010 World Cup campaign that he showed an immaturity that was becoming synonymous with that generation. When asked about Lilian Thuram’s idea that he should be banned from playing for France, rather than offer evidence to the contrary, his answer added lead weight to the notion. “Walking around with books on slavery in glasses and a hat does not turn you into Malcolm X,” he riled. Yet here we are with Evra now the emotional leader of a team in the last eight.
Credit where it’s due for it is not just because there are only four members from that embarrassing journey still about that he is the go-to-guy in terms of experience. It’s because he’s improved his attitude to the point that he’s perhaps reached national forgiveness, an idea that was unthinkable not long ago.
But if the France of 2010 seem unrecognisable, the problem is Evra seems unrecognisable from the player he was then as well. For along with his mental rise has been a physical fall highlighted brutally here.
Once more against Nigeria yesterday, his engine chugged and stuttered. Get too far forward and he couldn’t get back. Stay deep and it was a case of hoping for the best.
When Victor Moses, in particular, picked up the ball in Brasilia, Evra would immediately cover yards in backward steps for damage limitation. The trade-off is clearly that offering up vast space in front of him is better than being bypassed and offering up that same space behind him. It’s been a problem for so long that it was little surprise Nigeria looked to exploit it throughout. In fact by the time the second half came about, even Efe Ambrose was occasionally abandoning his post at the back and looking to exploit the obvious flaw. It could become the fatal flaw in the French team.
“He was 22-years-old when I met him at Monaco,” said Didier Deschamps of Evra beforehand. “He’s very experienced, he’s a competitor, I think it’s his ninth season with Manchester United, he’s won a lot of titles, was sometimes captain there. He’s a winner, it’s obvious, he’s accustomed to big matches and prepared really well to be ready for this competition. We saw that in his first two matches.”
It was as if Deschamps was talking about a bygone version of the player because none of those physical attributes were on show in the second round. Indeed, for all that the manager has done in seeing out the violent vibrations of the past, his loyalty to Evra is now by far France’s biggest weakness.
The manager was brave and has already been proven correct in his axing of Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy as there’s now great harmony in this group. Outside of Karim Benzema, there are no star players, even if Paul Pogba lived up to some of his hype in this game. It’s a team effort that has made them more than the sum of their parts.
But in such a set-up, there’s no leftover ability to cover for anyone when they play the best sides, yet it’s what Laurent Koscielny was forced to do repeatedly against Nigeria as he diverted from the middle when needed. His reading of the situation was impressive because when Evra was easily dragged out of possession, he was quick to get across and lock the door before it was opened.
It’s a pity because while Evra now represents the evolution of France in terms of a mentality that has got them this far, his limitations represent why they may not go any further.
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