FRENCH manager Raymond Domenech put on a brave face as his side lacked the guile to break down 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, with the French unable to find a way past an opposition who picked up a point they clearly came for.
Domenech left Zurich’s Letzigrund stadium knowing that only a win against Holland in Berne on Friday has taken on even more importance.
“I wish we had won this game 10-0 with many goal chances but that didn’t happen,” Domenech said. At least he can take solace from the likely return from injury of France’s all-time leading goalscorer Thierry Henry after the unconvincing display of Karim Benzema and Nicolas Anelka.
“Thierry’s doing better. He had a small problem and wasn’t quite ready,” said Domenech.
Another plus for Domenech is the fact that injured talismanic captain Patrick Vieira could be back to face the Dutch.
Despite only taking a point, Domenech remained hopeful about making it into the quarter finals.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t qualify. I’m already preparing for the next game against the Dutch.
“We’ve known this group was going to be tough for six months, today we saw the confirmation.”
Both Domenech and his Romanian counterpart Victor Piturca suggested climactic conditions had hardly helped the players.
Piturca said: “It was very important to play well in front of all those fans — we felt their hearts supporting us and I’m really glad we managed to satisfy them.
“My aim was to win three points but a draw is a fair result. Both teams are still in a good position to qualify.”
While France meet the Dutch in Berne, Romania return to Zurich to face world champions Italy on Friday.
Clear-cut chances were at a premium yesterday, Anelka and Florent Malouda having the best of them, as defences came out on top in a match to forget for the strikers.
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 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 wide man 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 held firm.
ROMANIA: Lobont, Contra, Tamas, Goian, Rat, Cocis (Codrea 63), Radoi (Dica 90), Chivu, Nicolita, Daniel Niculae, Mutu (Marius Niculae 78).
FRANCE: Coupet, Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal, Ribery, Toulalan, Makelele, Malouda, Anelka (Gomis 72), Benzema (Nasri 77).
Referee: Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain).
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