Poor France held in opener

09 June 2008 07:30
France face an uphill task to qualify from Group C after being held to a goalless draw in a drab opening encounter with Romania. Coach Raymond Domenech was denied the services of injured pair Patrick Vieira and main striker Thierry Henry - who was an unused substitute amid rumours of a back problem - as they produced an insipid display against a side regarded as the weakest in their group. France must now potentially defeat both fellow Group C sides Italy and Netherlands to reach the knockout stages. However, on the evidence of this performance they will struggle to scale anywhere near those heights after carving out only one real scoring opportunity against a hard-working but ultimately toothless Romania side. Karim Benzema and Nicolas Anelka began up front, but the highly-rated pair failed to strike up a partnership on their first international start together. Wideman Frank Ribery and Florent Malouda were also similarly ineffective, while Domenech's decision to name two holding midfielders in Claude Makelele and Jeremy Toulalan appeared a highly questionable tactic. Benzema was first to show flashes of the form that have made him a reported target of Manchester United as the Lyon youngster lashed a left-foot shot over the bar from 25 yards in the early stages. Anelka headed a half-chance over from six yards following a 32nd minute Ribery corner which found its way to the unmarked Chelsea striker in a game which quickly developed into a pattern of France possession but a lack of quality play in the attacking third. Cristian Chivu diverted the ball back at his own keeper from close range just before half-time as Ribery and Benzema combined for virtually the first time. After the break the French malaise continued as Malouda toyed with his marker Cosmin Contra before slashing at a rising shot from the corner of the box and watching as fly high over the bar. The only real chance of note created by France came in the 57th minute when Ribery broke into space down the right flank, but his low pull back to the late arriving Benzema was side-footed straight at keeper Bogdan Lobont from 18 yards. Benzema dragged another 18 yard-shot wide of the post soon after, before both he and Anelka were replaced by Samir Nasri and Bafetimbi Gomis. But despite the change in personnel, Romania saw out the remaining minutes in comfortable fashion to leave France under fire and their Euro 2008 hopes hanging by the narrowest of threads.

Source: ESA