France, one of the pre-tournament favourites for Euro 2008, were held to a goalless draw by an obdurate Romania side in their opening Group C game.
Raymond Domenech’s side, lacking the injured Thierry Henry, were bereft of ideas in what was a disappointing encounter in Zurich. The result casts doubt on France’s ability to qualify for the knockout stages from what is widely regarded as the toughest of all the groups.
For their part, Romania’s strategy worked to perfection: hustling and harrying, they easily frustrated the limited attacking threat of the French, for whom the highly touted Karim Benzema struggled to have any impact on the match.
The only opening in the first half for the French fell to Nicolas Anelka, but the Chelsea striker headed over from close range after being found by Makelele.
As the half progressed the Romanian game plan appeared to be working. Resolute and disciplined and occasionally prepared to resort to cynical measures to halt their opponents, Victor Piturca’s side enjoyed some promising moments as half-time approached.
In contrast, France appeared to be beset by lethargy with their attacks frequently running down Romanian cul-de-sacs.
The second half continued in a similar vein, with Romania looking increasingly comfortable defending in numbers. Domenech rang the changes bringing on Bafetimbi Gomis for the listless Anelka, and Samir Nasri for the ineffective Benzema, but neither was able to contrive an opening.
The game petered out towards the end, with France seemingly resigned to the fact that they were destined not to score. Given their achievement in reaching the 2006 World Cup final after a similarly disappointing start to their campaign, perhaps it would be foolish to write them off too soon. However, on this evidence, neither Holland nor Italy will be quaking in their boots at the prospect of meeting France in subsequent group matches.
Romania 0 France 0
Romania: 1-Bogdan Lobont; 2-Cosmin Contra, 15-Dorin Goian, 4-Gabriel Tamas, 3-Razvan Rat; 5-Cristian Chivu, 6-Mirel Radoi (20-Nicolae Dica 90+3), 11-Razvan Cocis (8-Paul Codrea 63); 21-Daniel Niculae, 16-Banel Nicolita, 10-Adrian Mutu (18-Marius Niculae 78)
France: 23-Gregory Coupet; 19-Willy Sagnol, 15-Lilian Thuram, 5-William Gallas, 3-Eric Abidal; 22-Franck Ribery, 6-Claude Makelele, 20-Jeremy Toulalan, 7-Florent Malouda; 9-Karim Benzema (11-Samir Nasri 77), 8-Nicolas Anelka (18-Bafetimbi Gomis 72)
Referee: Manuel Mejuto (Spain).