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France's Thuram to match record he did not want

Written by: Staff
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HAMELIN, Germany, June 16 (Reuters) Lilian Thuram was never particularly interested in Marcel Desailly's national record of 116 caps, which he should match on Sunday when France play South Korea in their second World Cup Group G game.

A prominent member of the team that lifted the World Cup on home soil in 1998 and won the European Championship two years later, the 34-year-old Thuram announced his retirement from international football after a quarter-final exit at Euro 2004.

In August last year, alongside playmaker Zinedine Zidane and holding midfielder Claude Makelele, the defender changed his mind and returned to help France reach the finals in Germany.

''If I had wanted to beat Marcel's record, I wouldn't have stopped (in 2004) but now that I'm so close, it would be stupid not to,'' Thuram said just before the World Cup.

A reassuring presence in defence for over a decade, Thuram has been hampered by injuries over the past year and has struggled to the extent that he was no longer an automatic starter at Juventus towards the end of the season.

The Guadeloupe-born Thuram looked sluggish in France's dull 0-0 opening draw with Switzerland last Tuesday and media commentators are suggesting it might be wiser to drop him for the game against South Korea in Leipzig.

AMAZING FEAT Coach Raymond Domenech is likely nevertheless to select one of the most respected figures in his squad.

''He's an extraordinary player and everybody can learn something from him,'' William Gallas said of his partner in France's central defence.

Whatever happens in Germany, Thuram will always be remembered by French fans for his amazing feat against Croatia at the 1998 World Cup.

The defender, famous for his clumsiness in front of goal, struck twice to present France with a 2-1 win that sent the team through to their first World Cup final, in which crushed Brazil 3-0.

Those goals remain the only two Thuram has ever scored for France in 115 appearances.

''When I die, they will show those goals on television,'' he recently told French sports daily L'Equipe.

Eight years after the 1998 triumph, Thuram, who won his first cap on the same day as Zidane in a 2-2 draw with Czech Republic in 1994, provides a symbol for an ageing team looking for a final encore.

The thoughtful Thuram surely realises, however, that he must now show on the pitch that he still deserves to be picked.

REUTERS DH PC2255

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