Nervous France face struggle after goalless draw
By Patrick Vignal
ZURICH (Reuters) - France face a struggle to survive the toughest group in Euro 2008 after looking a pale shadow of their brilliant best in a 0-0 draw with a compact Romania side in their opening match on Monday.
The 2006 World Cup runners-up, who also face Netherlands and world champions Italy in a tricky Group C, never had the guile to find a way through their unfancied opponents' well-organised defence.
"We know it is a complicated group and Romania are not there to do anybody any favours," said France coach Raymond Domenech. "We were nervous, we could not express ourselves fully, it's often like that in the first match.
"The situation we're in now is that every match will be a knockout round."
France looked nothing like title contenders in a dull affair with few highlights that featured just one shot on goal when striker Karim Benzema fired straight at Romania goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont from Franck Ribery's cross just before the hour.
The 20-year-old Benzema, tipped to be one of the attractions of the tournament after a goal-packed season with French champions Olympique Lyon, was otherwise harmless.
Romania failed to sparkle but stood firm at the back, demonstrating how they had topped their qualifying group ahead of Netherlands and showing their determination to give their group rivals a hard time.
"Personally, I would have wanted the three points since France may no longer be at the level they used to be," said Romania coach Victor Piturca. "You could see that today. Our goal was three points but in the end it was a fair result."
France started without top striker Thierry Henry, who received a knock in a warm-up game, and captain and midfield inspiration Patrick Vieira, sidelined by a thigh injury.
The pair were sorely missed on a grey evening with little to thrill the 30,000 fans packed into the Letzigrund stadium.
France dominated play but created few clear chances while Romania waited for opportunities to counter-attack which hardly ever materialised.
Nicolas Anelka, playing in place of Henry, shot just wide in the ninth minute and headed the ball over the bar after the half-hour mark in two of France's few threatening moves.
The second half started in more promising fashion for France with Malouda twisting his way past two defenders and racing into the box to shoot just wide with an angled shot.
France, looking for the right balance between ageing stalwarts and exciting newcomers, showed little else and will have to step up a gear to survive the group stage.
"We need to show mental strength to get out of that group," said Ribery, who was as energetic as always but never decisive.
"It won't be easy."
(Editing by Trevor Huggins and Ken Ferris)