Thuram: Spirit of 1998 is driving French on

July 3, 2006

HAMELIN, Germany, July 3 (Reuters) - France have recaptured the spirit that guided them during their triumphant 1998 World Cup campaign, defender Lilian Thuram said on Monday.

'Since the start of the tournament we are a bit in the same state of mind (as in 1998),' the centre back told reporters at the French team's base in northern Germany.

'Back then it was very difficult to score a goal against France,' added the 34-year-old, warming up for Wednesday's World Cup semi-final against Portugal. 'It's the same here. It's very difficult to destabilise us.'

France, who were eliminated from the 2002 finals in the group stage, struggled initially in Germany but have hit top form, overcoming Spain 3-1 in the last 16 and then overcoming holders Brazil 1-0 in the last eight.

'The players respect each other and forget about their egos to serve the team,' said Thuram, who broke Marcel Desailly's national record of 116 caps during the finals and will play his 120th match for France against Portugal in Munich.

It was all very different, the Juventus player said, during Euro 2004 which France exited in the quarter-finals.

'We weren't a team there, we didn't feel like a solid group and we had the impression we were wasting our time.'

Thuram announced his retirement from international football after Euro 2004 and was reluctant when coach Raymond Domenech asked him to return last year to help the team qualify for the finals in Germany.

'I was not sure I could help out but he said he could select me against my will, which he did,' Thuram said.

'That meant he had trust in me and I didn't want any conflict with him,' he added, explaining why he had eventually decided to join Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele in returning to the national fold.

After the World Cup, Thuram will quit the international game, for good this time.

'For the moment I'm enjoying this World Cup but after that, given my age, it will be better for everybody if I stop,' he said.

Zidane, too, is playing his last tournament for France. The gifted playmaker, also 34, was magnificent against Brazil.

'Seeing him play must make many other feels they should stop,' Thuram said.

'It also makes you wish he would carry on.'