It was almost a dream start for France in Porto Alegre. The 3-0 win over Honduras was a brilliant result for Didier Deschamps’ team. However, there were a couple of worrying moments for Les Bleus: Paul Pogba’s reaction to Wilson Palacios’ challenge and the yellow card to veteran Patrice Evra.
France had started nervously against the CONCACAF side and tensions were high with the weight of expectation on their shoulders. After just seven minutes, Manchester United’s Evra went flying recklessly into a tackle on Andy Najar and went straight into the referee’s book.
His tackle nearly caused himself an injury, and the defender had to receive some treatment. Not only was his tackle mistimed in terms of causing a foul, it could have been a disastrous start to France’s World Cup.
Without the experience of Franck Ribery, France are relying on Evra, Karim Benzema and Hugo Lloris to shoulder the burden of responsibility on this young team.
The caution meant that Evra was walking a tightrope for the rest of the game, and with 83 minutes to play and Honduras intent on winding the French players up into a frenzy, it was lucky that Les Bleus managed to keep all 11 men on the field.
Evra’s example could be seen in the reaction of Pogba as Palacios stamped on the Juventus midfielder’s leg. The 21-year-old was lucky not to receive a straight red after lashing out. Now both players will be very fortunate if they don’t receive a suspension going into the later rounds of the competition.
Yellow cards are no longer rescinded after the group stage. Now a second yellow picked up in the round of 16 would mean that players would miss out on the quarter-finals.
Paris Saint-Germain defender Lucas Digne would be Evra’s replacement at left-back if he was to pick up a second yellow. Deschamps would be confident in Digne’s ability to play against Switzerland or Ecuador, but if they were to come up against Argentina or Germany in the knockout stages, he would definitely want one of his most experienced players on the field.
Although Deschamps has stated that Evra will never captain France as long as he is in charge, Deschamps trusts him implicitly, and the Manchester United man is one of France’s key leaders out on the pitch.
"He will never be with me, and he knows it," said Deschamps, who has followed predecessor Laurent Blanc in continuing with Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as his captain.
"He knows why, but that doesn't mean he's not important. They are all important. He has a past. And some speak more than others. But even when it's good, it's not good."
Evra’s performances in the next two group games will be very interesting to watch. There is an argument that it would be ideal for the left-back to pick up a yellow card against Switzerland in France’s second game.
That would rule him out for the Ecuador game, and France would hope already to have six points before the final group match in Rio de Janeiro.
If Evra was to go unpunished against Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side, he would come under a bigger threat against Ecuador, with the likes of club team-mate Antonio Valencia and the impressive Jefferson Montero likely to attack at will down the flanks.
Playing against a team with speed and trickery down the flanks increases the chance that Evra would receive that crucial second yellow. The 33-year-old would then miss the first game of the knockout stage, something that Deschamps would clearly like to avoid.
After an impressive 3-0 win over Honduras, it is hard to say that anyone in the France squad will be feeling the pressure, but Evra’s card situation deserves some thought from the French technical staff.
They would hope that Evra would be able to play every game of this World Cup, but some tactical fouling could be the difference in making sure France has one of their leaders at the crucial moments in this World Cup.