Thuram and Ribery: Opposites with shared goal
The France squad is formed by a patchwork of players with varied origins, career paths and experience. This rich thread of diversity running through the ranks of Les Bleus is encapsulated by two men more than most: Lilian Thuram and Frank Ribery . Read on for an exclusive two-way interview with these engaging characters as they prepare to take on the in-form Spaniards in the Round of 16.
A hugely experienced defender and the archetypal calming presence at the back, Thuram has won practically everything there is to win for both club and country. A champion first of the world in 1998 and then of Europe two years later with Les Bleus, this Guadeloupe-born player has been a fixture in the French side for 12 years. An Italian champion four times with Juventus and a UEFA Cup winner with Parma, his trophy cabinet has just one small place left for a UEFA Champions League winners' medal. For the French national team, the 34-year-old has 118 caps and remains an influential figure in the dressing room.
Eleven years his junior, Ribery is considered to be the 'baby' of Raymond Domenech's side, despite being 24 years old now. A waspish attacking midfielder, the northerner never goes missing and is capable of conjuring up a goal from almost anywhere. His trajectory at club level has been far from conventional, but in the space of three seasons, he has rocketed from an unknown amateur outfit to the French first division and a career as an international. As yet, Ribery cannot hold a candle to 'Tutu' in terms of his achievements in the game, but one thing they do have in common is an indefatigable will to win.
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FIFAworldcup.com: Against Togo as on so many previous occasions, the team carved out chance after chance but seemed almost jinxed until the first goal. Did you ever think it wasn't going to be your night?
Lilian Thuram: We're used to it now, as we also had numerous opportunities against Switzerland and Korea. This time again, I lost count of how many attacks we had, and it just wasn't happening for us. But I prefer to see the glass half-full: we were very dangerous throughout and did manage to score two crucial goals. And most importantly, the lads never let their heads drop.
Frank Ribery: I wouldn't say that we every really doubted we'd do it, but we did ask ourselves some tough questions at the break. In the changing rooms, we chatted to each other and basically calmed each other down. We also agreed that, this time, we would start the second half just as we'd begun the first: going forward.
Patrick Vieira finally did break the deadlock - do you think that strike could serve as a turning point?
Thuram: I really hope it has that effect. Up to now, we've had some problems gelling together and finishing matches off as we should. It's undeniable that we were inhibited by our bad experience in 2002, but now I believe we have well and truly put it behind us.
Ribery: There's definitely been a kind of change. I had two good opportunities again this time, but I didn't manage to put either away. It could easily have affected my game adversely, but my team-mates spurred me on and didn't judge me. They encouraged me to keep plugging away, telling me that things would come good for me. And that's exactly what happened, even if I didn't get on the score sheet personally.
Next up, it's Spain. What are your thoughts on that game?
Thuram: Spain are an incredibly dangerous side who constantly look to attack you. But in these knockout stages of the tournament, every side starts each match on a level playing field, so to speak. In such tight affairs, the winner is invariably the side whose desire is greater. And let me tell you, we have that desire coursing through our veins so I believe we'll be alright.
Ribery: Spain are the tournament's form team at the moment and have many excellent players from the cream of Europe's clubs. They have to be seen as favourites going into the game, which suits us just fine.
What do you feel is the key to beating them?
Thuram: It's very simple: we just need to score at least one goal more than them!
Ribery: It's crucial that we keep our shape and not offer them any inviting gaps, because they are a side that can exploit the slightest chink in our armour. They are technically gifted and love to play short passes into space, something we simply must not allow them to do. In attack, our plan is to use our pace down the flanks to unhinge them.
Could you sum each other up for us?
Thuram: Frank is every defender's worst nightmare, always looking to hit them where it hurts and not giving them a moment's peace. His electric pace makes him the quintessential modern striker and he's already vital to our system, as his ability to take out an opponent with a drop of his shoulder gives our play an added dimension. When teams are as well drilled as they are here in Germany, having a player like Frank in your side can make all the difference. Provided he keeps his feet on the ground, there's no limit to what he can achieve in the game.
Ribery: He's one of the squad's elder statesmen and as such, offers an invaluable wealth of experience. He's also a fantastic team-mate who's constantly prompting and cajoling us younger lads. He has made me feel really at home, which is so crucial when you come into a set-up like Les Bleus. And in football terms, he's one of the best defenders in the business and the anchor of our entire defence.