France is prepared to face Ukraine in their two-legged 2014 World Cup qualifying play-offs, with first-choice custodian Hugo Lloris’ fitness still in doubt.
The French Football Federation released a video of the Tottenham Hotspur custodian in training earlier this week to allay fears that the 26-year-old would be forced to miss the opening match in Kiev on Friday. However, the Daily Mail reported on Monday that he will play in the vital match.
Lloris’ genuine level of fitness is still being questioned, following the revelation that he was benched for Spurs’ loss to Newcastle United last Sunday after failing to pass a concussion exam. The Frenchman failed an Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) examination, according to the Independent.
Former France national team doctor Jean-Marcel Ferret reportedly told Le Parisien via ESPN FC that Spurs jeopardised the player’s health by allowing him to play against Everton when he should have been substituted.
With the exact nature of Lloris’ injury and accompanying layoff length uncertain, France coach Didier Deschamps faces more than one dilemma.
Lloris is not only Les Bleus’ first-choice custodian, but he also serves as captain. If Deschamps is forced to miss one or both of the Ukraine games, there are no obvious and plausible options.
Who could the World Cup- and European Championship-winning former midfielder turn to if Lloris is ruled out?
Deschamps may have already called on former captain Patrice Evra.
The Manchester United player wore the armband during the ill-fated 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa and received the brunt of the criticism as the side was eliminated in the group stage. Evra, on the other hand, has now worked his way back into the team, appearing in the 2012 European Championship campaign in Ukraine and Poland.
Franck Ribery also recently revealed that it was the 32-year-old who helped inspire France to a 4-2 victory over Belarus in a key qualifier back in September, despite the former captain not even being on the pitch.
But Evra’s recent tirade towards the French football media, for which he has gone unpunished, as reported by ESPN FC, appears to rule him out of ever captaining the side again. In fact, the former Monaco man should probably consider himself lucky to have not been forced into early international retirement.
With his best reserve option no longer a possibility, Deschamps must look at other alternatives.
Current Monaco captain Eric Abidal is possibly the finest vice-captain, but given Les Monegasques’ recent slump in form, his inclusion in the squad may be questioned.
Abidal and defensive partner Ricardo Carvalho are both showing signs of age, and Claudio Ranieri’s team is surrendering goals. Outside of his undeniable expertise, the 34-year-old’s argument for admission is thin.There are few alternatives to the former Barcelona man, and even fewer who play regularly enough in the side to warrant being given the armband. If Lloris is ruled out, Abidal’s seniority over everyone else in the team, with the exception of third-choice custodian Mickael Landreau, may be enough to seal the deal.
Steve Mandanda, France’s No. 2 custodian, captains Olympique de Marseille but rarely appears for the national team. Rio Mavuba captains Lille OSC of Ligue 1 but has just recently been recalled by Deschamps and is barely a frequent enough fixture to justify starting, let alone captaining, the team.
Blaise Matuidi has shown this season and last that he has the makings of a future captain for Paris Saint-Germain. However, he is only given the chance when Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are both unavailable, which isn’t very often.
Deschamps could look to the future and give Matuidi a chance. But doing so would put pressure on one of his side’s most consistent performers, possibly leading to some uncharacteristically shaky performances while he adjusts to the responsibility.
The Ukraine clashes are hardly the right time to experiment.