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Thuram battles complacency

Lilian Thuram is one of the highest rated defenders in the world
uefa.com’s Paddy Agnew speaks to Juventus FC’s French international defender Lilian Thuram.

It may only be coincidence that French international Lilian Thuram was one of the illustrious names missing from the Juventus FC side that lost 2-0 in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League game away at RC Deportivo La Coruña.

A conspicuous absence
The decision by Juventus coach Marcello Lippi to rest Thuram, given his side's crowded fixture list, may have resolved at least one ongoing issue in the debate about a recent loss of form - namely that, wherever Juventus's problems are to be identified, Thuram is not the starting point.

No walkover
Badly missed against Deportivo, Thuram is likely to be back in the team for Juventus's next Champions League tie, away to German title-chasers Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Despite beating the German side 4-0 in Turin in December, Thuram was convinced that the return leg will be no walkover, telling uefa.com: "It is true that we beat Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 but that game had been rescheduled twice because of fog and maybe the Germans weren't in the right state of mind for such an important game."

Teething problems
Throughout this season, critics have argued that Thuram has not performed to the best of his abilities with Juventus. Apart from the obvious problems encountered in settling into a new team - the 30-year-old moved from Parma AC for a €40m fee last summer - the French international has been consistently used at right-back rather than in central defence. Even if fans all over the globe associate him with the right-back berth, he freely admits that he prefers to play in the centre of defence, which was his role at Parma.

A natural centre-back
"Throughout my career, I've always played as a central defender," he said. "But the problem is that when people think back to the last FIFA World Cup, they recall me playing as a right-back and they think that is my position. Here at Juventus, the coach has a squad and he's got to make the best of it and he thinks that the most balanced lineup is with me at right-back so that's OK, too."

Dual priorities
As he looked forward to the rest of the Juventus season, he refused to prioritise between the Serie A title battle and the Champions League. Despite recent draws, Juventus are still second in Serie A just one point behind joint leaders AS Roma and Internazionale FC while a win against Leverkusen would put them back on course for a quarter-final berth in the continental competition: "Champions League or Serie A? When you're a professional footballer, the important thing is to try and win every match, to win every competition not to go picking this or that," he explained.

Group One challenge
Whatever the rest of the league season holds in store for Thuram, he knows that this could be yet another very special summer for him as he takes his part in France's defence of the World Cup in Korea/Japan. Looking forward to France's first-round group which sees them face Senegal, Denmark and Uruguay, he discounted the view that France might have had an easy draw. The difficulties for France will begin with the opening game against Senegal.

'France can be beaten'
"People who looked at our draw and suggested that we had an easy opening game, simply don't know much about top-level football," said Thuram. "Any team can beat another - no side is certain of winning. France can be beaten, too - we lost a recent friendly against Chile 2-1 so I know that starting the competition against Senegal will be very difficult for us."

Senegalese hurdle
"On top of that, the Senegalese players will really be looking to play a big match against us because so many of them have grown up in French football and now play in the French league," he added. "Opening games are always difficult, in any case."

Will to win
As world champions, France have not played a competitive game in the last two years while the rest of their opponents at the finals will have cut their teeth in qualification, but Thuram believes that his side's two years of friendly internationals have done nothing to dampen their will to win. "A side like France know what to do when we're in a competition," he said. "Remember that we won the last World Cup in France played only friendly games in the build-up."

Striking options
Many critics argued that the winning French side of four years ago was only one outstanding striker short of being one of the all-time great sides. In the intervening years, forwards such as Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet have come to prominence, but Thuram was cautious about making too many claims for the current French side.

'On paper means nothing'
"Maybe, we look stronger on paper but on paper means nothing," he said. "Maybe we are stronger - our reputation is certainly bigger - but that doesn't mean much. People always say that we lacked a good striker at the last World Cup but we still finished up with the best attack and the best defence in the tournament so where was the problem? It's true that we have some very good players, like Trezeguet, Henry, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord in attack, but we'll have to wait and see how it all gels together at the finals."

Composure and authority
In person, Thuram displayed all of the composure and authority that he has done on the pitch for so many seasons. He is not a man for making rash statements, and despite playing in some of the great football teams of modern times, he is well aware that reputations on the football pitch are there only to be shattered.

'No one team that stands out'
Asked whether he thought France would win the World Cup this summer, a sly grin slithered across his face. "At the moment, it's difficult to say that one team is better than another," he said. "Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and there are others I'm forgetting about, are all strong but it's true that there's no one team that stands out head and shoulders above the others. People say France could be such a team but France are not unbeatable."

Unknown territory
Thuram knows enough to understand that there are no certainties, and that every game and every competition are another journey into unknown territory. In June, he should join the French squad as they head for Korea/Japan. He admitted that he knew little about the atmosphere and climate in south-east Asia, but as a seasoned professional he has proved 100 times that he can rise to any occasion.

Expect the unexpected
"When it's a World Cup finals tournament, you take things as they come," he smiled. It is a policy that has served him well in the past, and one that could well see him taste glory with France again.

This article is entitled from "Measured Trap making no promises", taken from UEFA Magazine. The images are not original.