CLAIREFONTAINE, France (AP) — France defender Patrice Evra has a blunt message for his teammates ahead of the European Championship quarterfinal against Iceland: “Wake up.”
France has failed to score in the first half at Euro 2016 and has been scraping through with gutsy second-half performances.
But one day, that formula may not work.
“We react instead of taking the initiative,” the 35-year-old left back said on Thursday. “I get the impression that we only play well when we have our backs to the wall. I hope we’re going to start (the game) well and not wait until the second half before we step on the accelerator.”
He fears another stifled performance might prove costly.
“We should be telling ourselves that one day it won’t come off for us, and that it might be against Iceland,” said Evra ahead of Sunday’s game at Stade de France. “We need things to be boiling up inside us — we need to wake up before the game.”
France needed an 89th-minute winner from Dimitri Payet to beat Romania 2-1, then last-gasp goals from Antoine Griezmann and Payet to see off Albania 2-0. Against Ireland in the round of 16, France overturned a 1-0 halftime deficit to win 2-1.
“I can’t repeat exactly what was said (at halftime). But we’ve had enough of just reacting,” said Evra. “What you can’t take away from us is that we keep going until the last second. But we can’t rely on that.”
Evra bristled at his news conference when it was suggested that France has been somewhat fortunate — considering it had a relatively weak group, followed by unheralded Ireland and Iceland in the knockout stages.
“If we beat Iceland, then we’ll play Germany or Italy (in the semifinals),” he said. “You call that luck? I don’t.”
Evra stands to win his 78th international cap against Iceland. But he was not part of the squad that reached the 2006 World Cup final.
“I’ve never won a quarterfinal with France, whereas at club level I’ve lost count,” said Evra, who has won a multitude of trophies with Manchester United and Juventus. “I am putting myself under pressure. If I don’t go through to the next round it will feel like I’m standing still.”
Evra thinks that the vitriol directed at England’s players after the 2-1 defeat on Monday was very unfair — on Iceland.
“People say England underestimated them but that takes credit away from Iceland. They beat Holland home and away in qualifying,” Evra said. “They have very good players. I played against (midfielder) Gylfi Sigurdsson when he was at Tottenham. People talk about their long throws, but they know how to get it down and play football.”
Still, Evra will be wary of midfielder Aron Gunnarsson — for his dangerous long throws.
During his United career, Evra dealt with a similar threat from Stoke’s Rory Delap.
“The famous javelin thrower. We worked on that in training at Manchester United. We had to,” Evra said. “It’s a weapon. I think (Iceland) scored twice from throw-ins, so we’ve been warned. We’ll have to really concentrate so that we don’t fall into the trap like other teams.”
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