Delighted to be back amongst his football friends, France playmaker Zinedine Zidane believes the opening match of the World Cup against Senegal will be crucial for the world champions' chances.
"The first round is going to be much tougher than it was in 1998 and the first game will certainly be the most important of the whole competition," Zidane said after training on Thursday.
"I'm really happy to be here with my friends and I'm ready to play. My main concern now is the match against Senegal.
"We must produce a great performance (against Senegal) to set the pace. We will do everything we can to prepare well, just like we did against South Africa four years ago." France won that game 3-0.
The inspirational midfielder arrived at France's training camp on Wednesday after attending the birth of his third son, and was greeted by dozens of fans wearing number 10 shirts.
Smiling but looking a little tired after a 17-hour flight from Paris, the Real Madrid player said he was impatient to play after going a week without a match.
Zidane scored a brilliant goal in Real's 2-1 defeat of Bayer Leverkusen in the European Cup final last week, and he said he would play in France's last warm-up against South Korea on Sunday. The Senegal match is on May 31.
"I'm going to play on Sunday. I don't know if it's going to be the whole match but I'll be there," he said.
"I have not played for the last eight days and it was good to resume training."
FRANCE FEEL STRONGER
Zidane had stayed with his wife Veronique, who gave birth to their third son Theo in Marseille, and missed the shock 2-1 defeat by Belgium at the Stade de France last weekend.
"It's really good to have him with us," said coach Roger Lemerre with a smile. "We feel stronger as we missed him badly. Now, everybody is here and it can start."
Zidane said the last week had been one of the greatest of his life.
"I've clinched a trophy and three days later my third son arrived,, it was just great. I would have loved to have spent more time with my wife, but honestly I'm delighted to be here."
French players will be allowed to spend time with their partners after each of the first two games but Zidane said his wife could not make it so soon after giving birth.
"It's not been planned for her to come. I think the schedule is going to be too tight."
Zidane, who scored two goals in the 3-0 defeat of Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final, turns 30 on June 23.
If France win the trophy again, it would be the first time in soccer history a nation would won two World Cups and a European title consecutively.
"It has never be done before and we can do something outstanding but it's going to be very hard," Zidane said. "Hard but not out of reach. We will have to go out for it."