Romania hold France scoreless in dour draw

Romania 0 France 0

France lacked the guile to break down an obdurate Romania side as a turgid Group C opener in Zurich finished goalless.

The so-called ’Group of Death’ got off to a timid start at the Letzigrund, with the French unable to find a way past an opposition who picked up a point they clearly came for.

Clear-cut chances were at a premium, France pair Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda having the best of them, as defences came out on top in a match to forget for the strikers.

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 45 minutes 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 to prevent 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 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 France coach Raymond 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’s fans were the ones cheering at the final whistle, despite France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet leaving the field having hardly touched the ball.

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