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Romania made a promising start to their UEFA EURO 2008 campaign, holding one of the tournament favourites, France, to a goalless draw at the Letzigrund Stadion in Group C.
Victor Piţurcă's side, appearing in their first major finals for eight years, restricted Les Bleus to a handful of half-chances as the two-time European champions struggled to impose their quality on proceedings. Nicolas Anelka was guilty of missing the game's clearest opportunity when he headed Franck Ribéry's cross over in the first half, but with Thierry Henry confined to the substitutes' bench, Raymond Domenech's men lacked a cutting edge and rarely put their well-organised opponents in serious difficulty.
These teams boasted two of the meanest defensive records in qualifying and from the opening exchanges it was obvious the contest would be tight. France monopolised possession early on yet rarely threatened Bogdan Lobonţ's goal as Mirel Rădoi, Răzvan Cociş and Cristian Chivu tenaciously closed down space in front of their back four. With Henry still not fully fit, Anelka and Karim Benzema started in attack for the first time, and both fired in wayward shots during a cagey first ten minutes.
Daniel Niculae had been given the task of leading Romania's front line on his own and succeeded in posing problems to Lilian Thuram and William Gallas. On 16 minutes the striker, who plays in France with AJ Auxerre, might have done better than drag his shot wide after Adrian Mutu's deft knockdown. The response was instant, Claude Makelele releasing Florent Malouda through the middle, only for Lobonţ to sprint off his line and deny the winger.
That would prove the only time the pacy France forwards got in behind Romania's canny defenders. Ribéry and Benzema began interchanging positions without much joy, although the FC Bayern München playmaker did lay on a golden chance for Anelka on 33 minutes. After playing a corner short, Ribéry's cross found the Chelsea FC striker unmarked but he headed over. Anelka vented his frustration four minutes later by blasting into the side netting from an impossible angle, as Benzema's calls for a cross went unanswered.
Both sides began the second period in more attack-minded fashion. Malouda was first to threaten, bursting past Cosmin Contra but shooting over the crossbar, before Romania enjoyed their best spell. Chivu's influence was growing and when his slide-rule pass found Mutu, the ACF Fiorentina player was felled by Willy Sagnol on the edge of the box. But as the France fans held their breath, Mutu directed his free-kick into the wall.
Les Bleus finished in the ascendancy. Ribéry's low centre from the right reached Benzema unmarked just inside the penalty area but his first-time shot was straight at Lobonţ on 57 minutes. The Olympique Lyonnais youngster then miscued another right-footed attempt after latching on to Anelka's header. Bafétimbi Gomis and Samir Nasri were introduced for the closing stages, yet neither succeeded in making inroads, as Romania held firm until the very end.
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