Thuram: France must stay humble to go all the way

VETERAN defender Lilian Thuram has urged France to maintain the new-found humility he says is the key to their resurgence and their hopes of booking a ticket to the World Cup final.

Thuram, 34, had to be lured back from international retirement — very much against his will — in 2005 after becoming disillusioned at what he considered the selfish attitude that had started to infect Les Bleus.

Now, he admits he is relishing his World Cup return and is confident the rekindled team spirit could see France return to the final of the competition they won on home soil in 1998 by beating Portugal in tomorrow’s semi-final in Munich.

“The hardest thing now comes with beating Brazil [in the quarter-final] because people are expecting us now to reach the final. That could affect the squad and, if we lose the humility that has been our strength, then it could look bad for us but I hope that won’t happen.”

Thuram retired after Euro 2004 when France exited in the quarter-finals to eventual champions Greece.

He said: “When we went to Euro 2004, it was in contrast to what we see now which is discipline in our matches. At [the] Euro, it was indiscipline and sometimes anything happened.

“There was no team, no squad, and without a squad you can’t have a team and when you get to a certain age you think ‘I don’t need this any more’.

“The coach can do his job and make as many speeches as he likes but if the players are not receptive then it’s all for nothing.

“We saw a Greece team with no star players win the tournament — they were a great team, not great players. They were players who put others before themselves.

“In football, the egos are very big but you must learn to put others first.”

Thuram, his country’s most capped player, revealed how hard coach Raymond Domenech had to work to get him to return to the fold along with Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele, who were also persuaded to end self-imposed exiles.

The Juventus defender said: “A long time ago the coach came to see me and said ‘come back’ and I said to him ‘I’ve taken a decision now and I think it must be respected’.

“He said to me ‘I could call you up against your will’ and I said ‘Are you kidding?’ We agreed to think about it and then some time later he called me up.

“I thought ‘well, the French team has done a lot for me and if I can be of service?’. But then I said to him [Domenech] ‘Maybe if you call me back I will behave badly in the squad’. He called me anyway.”

Meanwhile, Franck Ribery may be the baby of the France squad but he believes that qualifies him more than anyone to know what a second World Cup win in eight years would do for the country.

Ribery, 23, is the youngest member of an ageing team but still remembers his schooldays and the street celebrations that followed France’s 1998 World Cup victory.

“I was only 15,” said Ribery. “I went out celebrating on the streets like everyone else did. Because I know what it’s like and I have lived through that experience, it makes it clear to me how important these things are.”

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