World Cup runners up France open their campaign in the Group of Death when they face Romania in Zurich on Monday. Les Bleus won the tournament the last time it was co hosted- in 2000.
Midfielder Patrick Vieira has to take a late fitness test, and if he fails to clear, Lyon’s Jeremy Toulalan will take his place. Willy Sagnol has looked out of sorts at right back, and Domenech may consider replacing him with the youthful Francois Clerc. Abidal gets the nod ahead of Evra on the left, with Gallas and Thuram forming an experienced central defensive pairing. Frank Ribery is one of the many talented attacking players that France possess, and the Bayern right winger is a man that Romania will watch out for. Thierry Henry is a doubt, having not trained since France’s 1-0 win over Colombia. Should Henry not make it, Domenech should start with Anelka and Benzema upfront, with Gomis on the bench.
Romania are considered by many to be a cannon fodder in a group that consists of three international heavyweights in France, Italy and Holland. But the other teams will ignore them at their own peril. Romania topped Group G in qualifying, even beating the Netherlands in the process. Skipper Cristian Chivu and forward Adrian Mutu are their two best recognised players. Mutu should play upfront with Niculae or Marica. Chivu is a versatile player who can play in defence or midfield, but is likely to be used in the latter. Florentin Petre and Nicolae Dica are expected to provide width down the wings. Dorian Goian is an injury doubt in central defence. His replacement, Stefan Radu didn’t acquit himself too well in Romania’s 4-0 friendly win over Montenegro. That is one troublesome area for Piturca, given France’s glittering names in attack. Shakhtar’s left back Razvan Rat will have his hands full, with the speedy Frank Ribery his opponent on the pitch.
The pressure is on France. A loss here would make progressing from this group really difficult, with matches against Italy and Netherlands to come. France’s wastefullness in front of goal in their warm up friendlies against South American opposition would have bothered Domenech too. This game is a repeat of the 1996 Euro group one, which France won 1-0 thanks a goal from Christophe Dugarry. France to edge this 2-1, with Mutu, Benzema and Anelka scoring.