Monday, June 9, 2008

Group C : Romania vs France

Lacklustre France failed to score in their opening Euro 2008 game against Romania which could leave them with an uphill task to qualify from Group C.

Without influential captain Patrick Vieira and main striker Thierry Henry, they created little against the hard-working but unambitious Romanians.

Franck Ribery cut a ball back for Karim Benzema to cushion an 18-yard shot into Bogdan Lobont's arms on 62 minutes.

The Lyon striker dragged a shot wide seconds later but was then substituted.

This match under the fading Zurich sun marked the first time France has entered a major tournament in over a decade without the now-retired Zinedine Zidane.

And, with influential skipper Vieira missing with a thigh injury and sciatic nerve victim Henry on the bench, it was a chance for a new generation to shine.

But, with high hopes stacked on their shoulders, young stars such as Benzema, Ribery and Jeremy Toulalan all failed to set a dreary first-half alight.

Though the Euro 2000 winners shaded possession, they lacked urgency in a match they were under pressure to win given world champions Italy and European heavyweights Netherlands make up the rest of Group C.

A flurry of scrappy half-chances fell just before the 10-minute mark, first to Romania's Fiorentina striker Adrian Mutu after a poor Eric Abidal clearance before Nicolas Anelka fired well wide from a tight angle.

Mutu then headed down for strike partner Daniel Niculae on 15 minutes who crashed a low shot wide from 30 yards out.

France's Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele then showed a hint of quality using the outside of his right boot to weave a clever pass through to Florent Malouda, but left winger showed no conviction as Romania keeper Bogdan Lobont hacked clear.

Aside from one flash when Lyon forward Benzema and Bayern Munich midfielder Ribery linked up, the game lacked any urgency.

Romania did press forward when they could but often displayed spoiling tactics - picking up three cynical yellow cards.

Anelka - badly out of form for club and country - headed over from a bouncing Ribery corner on 32 minutes but the eastern Europeans finished the first period on the attack.

France emerged more focused and Ribery created the first clear-cut opening when he cut a ball back for the lurking Benzema, who cushioned a shot into Lobont's arms from 18 yards.

On 65 minutes Benzema then showed great feet on the edge of the box to leave Gabriel Tamas and Cosmin Contra bamboozled - but he dragged his low 15-yard shot wide.

But with hard-working Romania not threatened to the point of panic France manager Raymond Domenech brought on promising St Etienne striker Bafetimbi Gomis for the morose Anelka on 73 minutes, and then withdrew the frustrated Benzema for Marseille's Samir Nasri.

Romania's talisman Mutu, who in the past 19 games in which he scored has always been on the winning side, was bizarrely dragged off with just over ten minutes remaining for Inverness striker Marius Nikulae.

But the raft of substitutions had little effect.

Romania defender Cristian Chivu floated a poor free-kick miles behind the goal and Eric Abidal's long-range effort flew wide.

The unfancied Romanians did cause panic in the three minutes of time which Spanish referee Manuel Mejuto added on when Banel Nicolita's cross was headed on by Daniel Nicolae.

But France survived, though questions will now be asked over their credentials to win the tournament after their lack of leadership and composure going forward.

Romania - and group C rivals Italy and Netherlands - will be hugely content with the result.

Romania: Lobont, Contra, Tamas, Goian, Rat, Cocis (Codrea 63), Radoi (Dica 90), Chivu, Nicolita, Daniel Niculae, Mutu (Marius Niculae 78).
Subs Not Used: Popa, Stancioiu, Petre, Marica, Sapunaru, Ghionea, Moti, Cristea, Radu.

Booked: Daniel Niculae, Contra, Goian.

France: Coupet, Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal, Ribery, Toulalan, Makelele, Malouda, Anelka (Gomis 72), Benzema (Nasri 77).
Subs Not Used: Mandanda, Frey, Boumsong, Vieira, Govou, Henry, Evra, Clerc, Squillaci, Diarra.

Booked: Sagnol.

Att: 30,000

Ref: Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain).

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