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French Focus: Eric Abidal (Lyon)

Eric Abidal has no doubt which game he has enjoyed most since his arrival at Lyon in the summer of 2004. “To be able to play in the Champions’ League against teams like Manchester United is one of the main reasons I left Lille,” he said after Lyon’s 2-2 draw with the English giants in September 2004. “Marking Cristiano Ronaldo was a great challenge. He’s one of the best wingers in the game right now and I know I did a good job on him.”

Indeed he did. Abidal refused to give the Portuguese wide-man any space, hitting him with a series of crunching tackles and matching him for pace if ever he escaped for a second. With Lyon leading 2-0 at the break, it is no coincidence that United’s comeback was inspired by Ronaldo after the winger had switched flanks.

“As a defender, my aim is to infuriate the opponent,” Abidal explained. “I want him to be so sick of the sight of me that he has to move somewhere else on the pitch to get away.” Abidal has been infuriating Ligue 1 forwards for years. Lyon boasted easily the best defensive record in 2004-05 and their France international is one of the main reasons for that. “It has gone well here. We have developed a solid unit,” continued Abidal, who admits he would prefer to be playing in the centre.

“I’m happier in the centre and the Coach knows that. When you play in the middle you have more responsibility. If you make a mistake out wide it won’t necessarily lead to a goal. In the middle, it will.” Yet Abidal, nicknamed the new Lilian Thuram, is causing problems for himself by excelling on the flank – just as Thuram did during his France career.

Abidal has been selected regularly for France by Coach Raymond Domenech, making his debut in the 1-1 draw with Bosnia in August 2004.

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