Thuram urges humility amid French euphoria

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The Independent Football

It's well past midnight, and hundreds upon hundreds of French supporters are bouncing up and down outside the Waldstadion in Frankfurt. Brazil had just been beaten in the World Cup quarter-finals and standing in front of them is Lilian Thuram, the broadest of grins on his face, orchestrating their movements and pulling his relatives and friends out of the crowd to join him.

That sense of euphoria was still on Thuram's mind yesterday. He was speaking at the team's training headquarters in Hamelin and acknowledged, ahead of tomorrow's semi-final against Portugal, that "the hardest thing now comes with beating Brazil because people are expecting us to reach the final".

The France coach, Raymond Domenech, has already warned against the "madness" of expectation, even urging his players to keep their mobile phones switched off and not to watch TV or read the newspapers, and Thuram said they needed to remain on their guard. "It 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," he stated.

Saturday evening belonged to Zinedine Zidane but Thuram, also 34, along with Claude Makelele, had to be lured back from international retirement too, following the disappointments of Euro 2004. Indeed, the Juventus defender was most vocal in his criticism of the atmosphere within the squad and needed the most persuasion - from Zidane - to return.

"When we went to Euro 2004, it was in contrast to what we see now which is discipline in our matches," Thuram said yesterday. "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'.

"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. Today, that is the case again, and I am delighted to be at this World Cup now and whatever happens it will be a positive experience."

Thuram, who is France's most capped player, revealed that Domenech had even threatened to call him up against his will. "But then I said to him 'maybe if you call me back I will behave badly in the squad'," Thuram added. "He called me up anyway."

The upbeat, positive mood in the French camp is, nevertheless, in stark contrast to the dire qualifying campaign for the tournament and the dispiriting way the team stumbled through the group stages. The squad was pilloried as too old, too complacent and not hungry enough.

Domenech, who excluded such players as Robert Pires, Philippe Mexès, Johan Micoud and Ludovic Giuly, came in for fierce criticism and seemed a coach out of touch. Now that has been transformed with the resurgence of Zidane, Patrick Vieira, the emergence of Franck Ribéry and, at last, with Thierry Henry thriving on the international stage. Then there has been the formidable defensive barrier provided by Thuram and William Gallas.

Indeed, the talk in the French camp is that Domenech, although still not universally popular, is likely to be offered a new two-year contract. It appears, however, that he is unsure whether to accept it and may prefer a post as a technical director.