Billed as rank outsiders in Group C, Romania coach Victor Piţurcă wants to "start changing those opinions" as his charges take on France in their opener in Zurich.
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The task facing Romania over the next fortnight is perhaps the most daunting of all the UEFA EURO 2008™ finalists', yet coach Victor Piţurcă remains convinced his emerging side have enough quality to hold their own in arguably the toughest group of all.
Romania have been rewarded for their fine qualification campaign with a place in Group C alongside traditional giants France, Italy and the Netherlands. Competing in their first finals for eight years, the Tricolorii have been labelled by many as outsiders to reach the quarter-finals, but Piţurcă hopes to change that view by springing a surprise against Les Bleus in Zurich. "When you look at the four teams it's understandable that people say we're underdogs," the 52-year-old said. "Our aim is to start changing those opinions."
The former FC Steaua Bucureşti striker is enjoying his second spell at the Romania helm, having guided his country through a successful UEFA EURO 2000™ qualifying attempt only to miss out on the finals, and he accepts his men have an almighty challenge. "I don't know if it's the hardest group there's ever been but when you're pooled with the two [FIFA] World Cup finalists and the Netherlands, you know it won't be easy." Of Monday's opponents, Piţurcă added: "France are a great team – the best in the world along with Brazil, Argentina and Italy. But Romania also have pedigree and we'll have our say in the group."
Romania's chances of claiming their first victory over France for 36 years, and a fourth in eleven encounters, were boosted by the news that Dorin Goian is fit to take his place alongside Gabriel Tamaş in central defence, meaning a midfield role for Cristian Chivu. VfB Stuttgart's Ciprian Marica should get the nod to partner Adrian Mutu in attack, although Piţurcă is "still considering one or two different options".
France coach Raymond Domenech also has selection puzzles to solve, with captain Patrick Vieira struggling with a thigh strain and Thierry Henry carrying a minor injury. The former Under-21 coach refuses to give anything away, although it is understood Olympique Lyonnais midfielder Jérémy Toulalan will take Vieira's place, while Henry could cede his striking position to Nicolas Anelka despite training at the Letzigrund Stadion on Sunday for the first time in four days. "At this moment the state of health of all 23 players is as good as I could have hoped for on the eve of a major tournament," Domenech said.
After four years in the France dugout, the 56-year-old has acquired considerable experience, yet he admits to suffering pre-tournament nerves. "I'm worried about everything," Domenech said. "As a coach you wonder if you've done everything possible to prepare your team, and even if you have, you don't know what will happen. We'll be up against three good teams who all want to eliminate us so there's always a worry that you might get swept aside." The ex-Lyon defender is not underestimating Romania, highlighting the point by comparing them to the world champions: "Of the sides we've played recently, Romania's style is closest to Italy's. They combine individual talent with organisation and discipline. I'm expecting a very hard match."