Romania hold France to a 0-0 draw

Zurich, June 9:

France stumbled in their opening Euro 2008 game today as Romania held Raymond Domenech’s favo-urites to a 0-0 draw, a result that will put a totally new complexion in Group C.

Romania, beaten by France in their opening match of Euro 1996, were able to stifle a largely muted Gallic attack to emerge with a priceless point in their fight to survive the group of death that includes world champions Italy and Euro 1988 winners Holland.

As for Domenech he can perhaps take consolation from the 2006 World Cup when France were slowly into gear, only exploding in the knockout stages to make it all the way to the final.

France went into the game boosted by the news that captain Patrick Vieira had recovered enough from the injury that had threatened to send him home to remain with the squad.

Thierry Henry, who missed three pre-match training sessions after picking up a knock in the friendly 1-0 win on his 100th appearance for Les Bleus against Colombia, started on the bench leaving Lyon’s Karim Benzema to partner Nicolas Anelka in attack with Jeremy Toulalan taking Vieira’s place in midfield.

The encounter at Zurich’s sold out Letzigrund stadium was characterised by lots of polished passing let down for the most part by sterile finishing. France’s iron defence marshalled by Lilian Thuram, wearing Henry’s captain’s armband, rarely let Romania have much of a look in in the first half yet Les Bleus’ domination went unrewarded. Franck Ribery showed occasional flashes of the silky skills that have made him such a star in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich last season but up front hitmen Benzema and Anelka failed to seriously trouble Bogdan Lobont in goal.

In the 10th minute Benzema sent a long range effort high while Anelka’s best effort was a sharply angled shot from the right which thudded in to the side netting. In the 32nd0 minute Eric Abidal floated in a cross from a Ribery-taken corner only for Razvan Rat, a splendid name for the villain of the next Batman movie, to knock the ball over the bar.

Romania’s neatest piece of play of the first period was arguably a 1-2 between Adrian Mutu and Daniel Niculae whose shot went wide. The striker was booked in the 25th minute for handball in the box, and two of his teammates, Cosmin Contra and Dorin Goian also went into Spanish referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez’ little black book.

Five minutes after the interval a charging Mutu was sent crashing to the ground by Willy Sagnol. The Bayern Munich defender was booked for his troubles while Mutu embedded the freekick into the Gallic wall.

The game badly needed a goal or failing that a decent shot on target and it at least got the latter in the 56th minute when Ribery scampered down the right to centre for Benzema whose low shot went straight into the hands of Lobont. Romania coach Victor Piturca made his first substitution on the hour mark, replacing Razvan Cocis with Paul Codrea.

Domenech then followed by switching Anelka for Bafetimbi Gomis, who scored both goals in the 2-0 friendly win over Ecuador last month.