I still get nervous, says Thuram
Few players in the history of the game can claim to have enjoyed as long and as successul a career as Lilian Thuram, but for all his experience, the France defender admits he is likely to have a sleepless night ahead of his team's opening UEFA EURO 2008™ match against Romania.
Having already played 140 times for his country, winning the 1998 FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship two years later, few would have expected the 36-year-old to be suffering from nerves on the eve of his seventh major finals. Yet the FC Barcelona defender, who will captain France against Romania if Patrick Vieira misses out, says he will remain on edge until the game kicks off in Zurich on Monday. "When you start out in such a tough competition, it's only natural to feel some apprehension," he explained. "I have some doubts. But when you're up against a top team like Romania it's only natural to be a little bit worried."
Thuram has enjoyed mixed fortunes with Les Bleus, contributing greatly to the highs of 1998 and 2000, but also experiencing the lows of 2002 and 2004, when they failed to meet expectations. He is well placed, therefore, to gauge the prospects of the current team. "I feel we're ready," said Thuram, who is poised to become the first man to make 15 appearances in EURO finals. "The team is in the right state of mind and the doubt that's present is a good sign because you perform better when you play with a bit of fear. There's no magic formula but if we stay focused we've got a good chance."
The former AS Monaco FC player is France's only survivor from EURO '96™, when Aimé Jacquet's team defeated Romania 1-0 in their opening fixture before progressing to the semi-finals, but admits he has forgotten everything about that game. Thuram was more interested in discussing the present Romania side, saying: "They're very strong. In qualifying, they beat the Netherlands and drew with them, so perhaps they're the side we should fear most." One of Thuram's biggest concerns is the presence of his former Juventus team-mate Adrian Mutu. "In his position, he's one of the best in the world. He's been showing his talent in Italy for several years already and can provide inspiration at any moment," he said.
Mutu might need to be at his best if Romania are to break down a French rearguard that has emerged as one of the meanest in international football, conceding just five times in 12 qualifiers. Since Thuram was talked out of international retirement in 2005, he has forged a formidable partnership with William Gallas in central defence and is hoping to keep things tight again this summer. "It's very important for the team to have a solid defensive base. A draw could be a good result in the first game because the most important thing is that we don't lose."