France stall in tame opener

Raymond Domenech's men are held by Romania

France and Romania played out a 0-0 draw in Zurich as the highly-anticipated Group C got off to a slow start.

The so-called 'Group of Death' failed to live up to its billing during a tame opening 45 minutes which was devoid of clear cut chances and attacking panache.

Raymond Domenech decided to go with two holding men in midfield, Claude Makelele and Jeremy Toulalan, and Les Blues struggled to find the creative spark to break through a stubborn Romanian side.

Nicolas Anelka wasted the best of the chances during a cagey first-half, with the Chelsea man seemingly struggling to shake off the hangover which followed his UEFA Champions League final nightmare.

Unfortunately, the second period brought more of the same, with Romania content to get men behind the ball and France unwilling to throw men forward.

As a result, a game which never rose above the mediocre unsurprisingly meandered towards an uninspiring stalemate.


On the evidence of this match, fellow group opponents Holland and Italy have little to worry about, although France can certainly improve.

Romania coach Victor Piturca claimed on the eve of the game that it would be "unbelievable" if his team were to beat the French, one of the favourites for the title.

And it soon became obvious they had set out to nick a draw, their negative tactics making for dull first-half fare that was often played at walking pace.

France bossed possession in the opening exchanges but did precious little with it. There was no hustle to their laboured attacks and Romania, who were stingy at the back in qualifying as well, coped comfortably.


Neither goalkeeper was seriously tested in the opening 20 minutes, although Romania's Bogdan Lobont was forced to race out of his comfort zone to prevent Florent Malouda having a clean run on goal.

Both teams could only muster long-range efforts - Karim Benzema for the French, and Adrian Mutu and Daniel Niculae for Romania - but none of them were on target.

The best chance of the half fell to Anelka, who reacted quickest to a left-wing cross from Franck Ribery but could only loop a weak header over.

Benzema shot weakly at Lobont from eight yards at the end of the half as Franck Ribery finally came to life on the right flank.

The Bayern Munich wideman, who many are claiming is the heir apparent to the great Zinedine Zidane, improved after the interval but his usual spark was not there.


It was opposite winger Malouda who almost broke the deadlock when his weaving run ended in an angled shot that flew just wide early in the second half.

Benzema drew a decent save out of Lobont after being fed by Ribery 12 yards out but Romania, who remained on the defensive, were holding firm with 30 minutes left - without ever looking dangerous at the other end.

It took Domenech 70 minutes to make his first substitution, Bafetimbi Gomis replacing Anelka.

Arsenal-bound playmaker Samir Nasri also came on for the final 15 minutes but it changed nothing.

Romania will definitely be the happier having taken a point, while France look anything but the pre-tournament challengers they were expected to be.