Romania began UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying with two draws and a third could be imminent if their recent meetings with France, their Group D opponents at the Stade de France on Saturday, are any measure. After all, there has been no dividing the pair during the last three encounters. Before that, surprise pacesetters Albania take on Bosnia and Herzegovina without coach Josip Kuže, who fell ill last week.
France v Romania, Paris (Saturday)
These teams need no introduction having met twice in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying and also in the UEFA EURO 2008 group stage. They drew all three games, with their September 2009 showdown at the Stade de France ending 1-1 after Julien Escudé's own-goal equaliser. Of course, Les Bleus have a new coach in Laurent Blanc, whose charges recovered from an opening home loss to Belarus with victory in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Blanc has drafted in uncapped AS Saint-Etienne striker Dimitri Payet and brought back Samir Nasri and Yoann Gourcuff. Anthony Réveillère also received a late call-up after Bacary Sagna was ruled out with a thigh knock, while Abou Diaby is struggling with an ankle problem.
After draws with Albania and Belarus, Romania coach Razvan Lucescu recalls FC Timişoara's Ianis Zicu and Ştefan Radu of Serie A leaders S.S. Lazio after respective three and two-year absences. Iulian Apostol also returns for the first time in 2010. "We have a strong unit – Lucescu has brought that to the side," said defender Mirel Rădoi. "Whatever the result against France is, though, qualification will remain wide open."
Albania v Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tirana
Albania have made their best start to UEFA European Championship qualifying by taking four points from two games, but their plans have been hit by the ill health of coach Josep Kuže, hospitalised last week after a stroke. His assistant Džemal Mustedanagić has been named as caretaker coach for the next two games and the Bosnian kicks off against his home country. "I love Bosnia but I will also love to get a win," said the 55-year-old former Yugoslavia international. "We have to go out and play for the country and for our coach." Bosnia and Herzegovina coach Safet Sušić, meanwhile, includes left-back Muhamed Subašić for the first time and believes the visitors "have to get a result" to stay in contention with last month's victory in Luxembourg preceding a defeat by France.
Luxembourg v Belarus, Luxembourg
Belarus coach Bernd Stange has urged his team to "build on the success" of September's qualifiers, which brought a shock win in France and a home draw with Romania. "Only victories over Luxembourg and Albania will be good enough," warned the coach, who called up FC BATE Borisov defender Maksim Bordachev after Vitali Kutuzov was ruled out with tendinitis. Luxembourg will be glad to have skipper Jeff Strasser back in the fold as they target their first points against opponents they have upset once before – with a 1-0 win in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying on 13 October 2007.
A preview of the next set of fixtures in Group D on Tuesday – Belarus v Albania, and France v Luxembourg – will be published at the weekend.
Group D table
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