Thuram wary of in-form Italy ahead of final

July 6, 2006

Lilian Thuram fears Italy are playing with a rare 'solidarity' which will make it hard for France to win the World Cup.

The French beat Portugal 1-0 in last night's semi-final to book a showdown with the Italians in Berlin on Sunday.

Thuram has played his football in Italy for the last decade, with Parma and Juventus, and he can sense a bond of unity in Marcelo Lippi's Azzurri.

Thuram, man of the match against Portugal, said: 'I know these players and I know how strong they are. I know their quality and it will be a very hard game.

'It is probably the best team in the tournament. I could always see them going very far. The coach made a very good selection for this group and they have been playing together for a long time. They have a great solidarity.

'In Italian teams before, there were always small problems between the players but now they are working together. It will be very hard for us.'

Thuram, 34, was part of the France team which won the World Cup in 1998.

He retired from international football but was tempted back, along with Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele, when coach Raymond Domenech was struggling to develop the next generation.

Berlin will be the last hurrah for this France team, including Zidane who scored the winner against Portugal from the penalty spot.

Thuram, who played his 120th game for France yesterday, said: 'It is my second final and I confess it is something I could not possibly have imagined.

'The World Cup remains a dream of my childhood. It is something quite fantastic.

'I wasn't going to be there because I decided not to play for the French team any more but the coach picked me against my own will and now I am going to the final.

'Football is fantastic. It is beautiful and I hope it will go on.'

Domenech paid tribute to match-winner Zidane, 34, who will play his last game for his country in Sunday's final.

The France boss said: 'He is a world champion. He affords the French public real dreams. That's always the case with him. It has been the case for 10 years with him now.

'This will be the last one for him but, for us, it is not the last match of Zinedine Zidane - it is the final of the World Cup. He doesn't want things to be mixed up and he's proved this.

'He is playing the World Cup here and not his last matches. It is the World Cup and that's what he has on his mind.

'There are other people for who it could also be the last match. The objective is to win the World Cup. Everyone is doing something.'

Domenech also paid tribute to those players in his squad who have not played a part in the run to Berlin.

He said: 'It's easy to congratulate those in the team but those around have done some good work, they are always available, always present.

'This is more difficult than playing in a match because you're not viewed as a hero. The 12 not on the pitch have to be congratulated as well.'

The Frenchman refused to comment on his own future after the World Cup final.

Domenech said: 'I'm just happy we are still there. What will happen against Italy I don't know. You feel under such a pressure, you feel like you're going to be hanged but you have to withstand this. At the end there can be only one.

'On the 9th of July we play the final of the World Cup. After that I will take holidays and then I will start breathing again.'