Belfast Telegraph

From living room woe to living the dream at European Finals for Jonny Evans

Jonny: In 2012 I was injured, watching the Euros on TV

By Steven Beacom

Jonny Evans can smile at the thought of it now. But four years ago, he felt the pain.

Like other Northern Ireland players, Evans watched the Euro 2012 finals, which were staged in Poland and Ukraine, on television, though with one notable difference.

The West Bromwich Albion defender, then at Manchester United, was sat in a chair with his leg up recovering from surgery.

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Fast forward to the Euro 2016 finals and the 28-year-old won't be a spectator from his living room this time.

Instead he will be smack bang in the middle of the action with Michael O'Neill's side when they take on Poland, Ukraine and World champions Germany in France.

"Four years ago I had literally just undergone an ankle operation," recalled Evans.

"I'd come out of surgery and I think England and France were playing each other in the tournament.

"I had the leg propped up the whole tournament, sitting watching the games.

"I was in a single armchair, in front of the television, recuperating from injury.

"Euro 2012 was a great tournament and I vividly remember thinking how fantastic it would be to play on such a stage with Northern Ireland.

"I knew some of the players involved in the 2012 tournament so I was following it very closely. For us to be there now is great.

"It'll be weird not being that man on the sofa. I can't wait to be involved. It promises to be an incredible experience and one that we are really looking forward to."

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Evans will be one of the few Northern Ireland players to go into the tournament with Champions League experience, having played in European football's premier club competition for several seasons with United.

In those games he faced the best strikers on the planet and will be up against another two in France in the shape of German hitman Thomas Muller and Polish superstar Robert Lewandowski.

He feels ready to accept the challenge wearing the colours of Northern Ireland.

"Facing them (Muller and Lewandowski) are the big challenges you face as a player," said Evans.

"Sometimes as a defender, playing against better players, you up your game and your concentration levels have to be raised.

"You try and get yourself into a mindset where you're totally focused on the game.

"Every one of us will have to do that if we want to be successful in this tournament."

Evans would love to repeat the outcome of seven years ago when he came face to face with Bayern Munich star Lewandowski at Windsor Park.

Back then in a World Cup qualifier, Evans scored in a 3-2 victory. Lewandowski has come a long way since then, scoring 13 goals in the Euro 2016 qualification process equalling the record of Northern Ireland legend David Healy.

Evans revealed that the team have already watched video footage of Poland's most influential performer ahead of the June 12 clash in Nice.

"We've watched a few clips already," stated the WBA ace. "We also watch a lot of football, so we see him quite a bit on television and so on.

"He played against us in Belfast a few years back, but I think he played on the right that day. He was just breaking his way into the Poland squad.

"He's obviously a great finisher. He's got speed, a good physique and technique. He's got everything you'd want in a centre forward.

"He's also playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world and banging in the goals for them, so he's going to be a really hard player to play against."

Whether Evans is taking on Lewandowski as part of a four-man or three-man defence remains to be seen.

At the moment it appears as though manager Michael O'Neill will opt for a 3-5-2.

The ex-Old Trafford ace added: "It becomes a little more man for man (when you're in a back three).

"A lot of the time as a defender, you'll find yourself one v one defending.

"It almost becomes more of a pressing game where everyone has to get up to the ball at the right time and there's no room for error.

"We tried it in recent friendlies and it has worked quite well for us."

Evans has had a rollercoaster career with Northern Ireland and is now experiencing the biggest high.

On Saturday he should play away to Slovakia in the team's final friendly before the Euro finals and then as one of the most high profile players in the squad, there will be much scrutiny on him during the tournament.

He has the quality to deliver some big displays for his country.

Belfast Telegraph