Lilian Thuram has set his sights on playing in a third FIFA World Cup after coming out of international retirement last month.
The 33-year-old Juventus FC defender brought his France career to a halt after UEFA EURO 2004™, but with Les Bleus struggling to qualify for next summer's finals he accepted coach Raymond Domenech's request to return. France remain precariously placed in their qualifying group, and Thuram says he felt an obligation to emulate Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele by offering his services.
'Needed a break'
"Last summer I felt it was the right time to stop," Thuram told uefa.com. "We'd just suffered our second successive disappointment at a major tournament and some of us needed a break. When I saw the World Cup group, I thought they'd have no difficulty getting through. That's when I made my decision to stop. But things haven't gone to plan, so when the coach asked me if I'd return it got me thinking."
'Full of emotion'
Having played most of his 105 internationals at right-back, Thuram returned to the side at centre-half against the Ivory Coast last month. But while Zidane marked a dream comeback by scoring in a 3-0 win, and Makelele turned in a typically assured display, Thuram was forced off with a thigh injury after just 23 minutes. "It wasn't a happy return," he reflected. "I was full of emotion during the national anthem, but picking up an injury ahead of the new season is the last thing I wanted."
Thuram regained fitness in time to play for Juventus in their opening Serie A game against AC Chievo Verona, and also featured in France's 3-0 win against the Faroe Islands on Saturday but was once more substituted because of a thigh problem. That victory moved Les Bleus level on points with Group 4 rivals the Republic of Ireland, setting up Wednesday's crunch tie in Dublin perfectly.
'The right result'
The presence of the former World Cup and UEFA European Championship winner, who is now France's second most-capped player, could prove crucial at Lansdowne Road. "We're all excited about this game," Thuram said. "If we win we'll be in with a great chance of going to Germany. France seem to be playing with confidence again so hopefully we'll get the right result."
Domenech's team were slightly fortunate to secure a goalless draw against the Irish at the Stade de France last year, and Thuram knows they will need to be on their guard this week. "I didn't see the match in Paris so I'm not sure what to expect from Ireland," admitted the former AS Monaco FC and Parma FC stopper. "They have some quality players and with the home fans behind them they're going to be very hard to stop."
Thuram believes the return of the experienced triumvirate has reassured the younger players, but says it could also make Ireland even more determined. "If I was an Irish player and I heard that Zidane, Makelele and Thuram were coming back, I'd be more motivated than ever," he said. "Beating this France team will be regarded as an even greater achievement and I'm fully expecting them to get stuck in from the start."
'The ultimate experience'
But having tasted World Cup glory in France seven years ago, the Guadeloupe-born defender is desperate to have another crack at the trophy. "Playing a World Cup is the ultimate experience," he said. "This France side certainly has enough talent to go to Germany and I'll do everything possible to make sure we do."
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