On Wednesday, Lilian Thuram showed why he is such a revered defender in the Les Blues shirt and was forced to come out of retirement for the World Cup.
The 34-year-old was a tower of strength in the French defence, repeatedly thwarting Deco [ Images ], Figo and Cristinao Ronaldo [ Images ] to deny Portugal the equaliser to Zinedine Zidane's [ Images ] penalty goal and put France [ Images ] into their second World Cup final in eight years.
Thuram, who broke Marcel Desailly's national record of 116 caps during the last group match against Togo, leads the water-tight French defence that was able to choke teams like Spain and Brazil [ Images ] before marching into Sunday's final. Against Portugal, he read the game well and upset Deco and Figo's rhythm with timely interceptions and smooth tackles.
A member of a talented crop of players from France's overseas territories, Thuram arrived in Paris from the Antilles at the age of nine. His soon impressed the talent scouts and at 20 began his professional career with Monaco.
Aime Jacquet handed him his international debut in 1994 and soon made him one of his first-choice players.
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 [ Images ].
"I was not sure I could help out but he said he could select me against my will, which he did," Thuram said before the finals.
"That meant he had trust in me and I didn't want any conflict with him," he had 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.
Captain 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."
Whether Thuram or Zidane carries on or not after Sunday's final won't bother French fans. All they are looking for is a good performance from both against the Azzurri.