France, who have earned a reputation for leaving it late at this European Championship, would be well-advised to wake up early when they face Iceland for a place in the semi-finals, veteran defender Patrice Evra warned on Thursday.
The hosts have survived some scares with sluggish starts and last-gasp wins on their way to the last eight but now is the time to make an impact from the start, the 35-year-old left back, regarded as Les Bleus’ wise old man, told a news conference.
“We keep scaring ourselves, we’re crazy,” Evra said. “If we keep doing that, we might not go through. We need to stop reacting and start acting.”
Evra, who has won plenty of silverware at club level but has never gone beyond the quarter-finals of a major event with France, nodded when asked whether Sunday’s tie at the Stade de France might be the most important game in his career.
“Yes, that’s true,” said the Juventus player, in line to win his 78th cap against Iceland. “I can’t stop there, we can’t stop there. We all know what we’re here for.”
“Uncle” Evra, as his team mates affectionately call him, urged the France players not to underestimate Iceland, who advanced with a shock 2-1 win over England.
“Before England played them, English journalists were asking me what it would be like (for France) to face England and I told them ‘wait a minute, guys, you’re not there yet'”, he said.
“People go on about long throws and all that but Iceland are not just that,” he added. “They’re a good team who can play good football and they did not get to that stage by accident. We have all due respect for Iceland, which does not mean we don’t believe we can’t beat them.”
Evra, whose own performances in the tournament have been criticised but whose leadership qualities are vital to France, looked happy to chat with journalists at France’s training camp outside Paris.
It was not always the case.
His relationship with the outside world suffered from his role in the 2010 World Cup scandal, when he captained the team who refused to train in South Africa in support of striker Nicolas Anelka, ejected from the squad for insulting then-coach Raymond Domenech.
“This team is great, we enjoy being together and we’re having a lot of fun,” Evra said. “Before, things were was a bit more complicated.”