Injury-hit France gear up for Romania
France have key players injured and lacking in fitness ahead of Monday's
European Championship match against a Romania team desperate to make its mark on the big stage.
Two-time champions France may be the favourite for the match in Zurich, but the Romanians are confident put on a good show at Euro 2008.
"We'd like to be the surprise of the tournament," Romania striker Adrian Mutu said. "The time has come for us to show our value."
There is perhaps no better time to play France, who generally get stronger the longer a tournament goes on. Captain Patrick Vieira is out with an injury, while defenders Willy Sagnol, William Gallas and Lilian Thuram have been sweating hard to be ready to play in Zurich.
Franck Ribery and Thierry Henry are also not 100 per cent, and playmaker Samir Nasri is struggling with a cold. Henry, troubled by a sciatic nerve for the past two seasons, trained alone Saturday with fitness trainer Robert Duverne, just as he had done on Friday.
With 17 goals for Fiorentina in this season, Mutu will be eager to exploit lapses in a French defence, which looked wobbly in a friendly against Colombia.
However, that is easier said than done.
France have not conceded a goal in the last four games and have only been breached 23 times in 51 games under coach Raymond Domenech.
"We have to work out their weak points. They don't have many and there will likely only be two or three chances to score," Mutu said. "I know what is expected of me by the country and I hope not to disappoint."
Given their injury and fitness doubts, the mood in the French camp has been restrained and subdued. The injury to Vieira, who tore his left thigh on May 30 in a training session, has been the main talking point all week. Domenech has ruled the Inter Milan midfielder out of Monday's game, but hopes to get him back for later.
"We get the impression he will be fine," France winger Sidney Govou said. "We feel he's getting a little better every day. But only him and the (team) doctor can say whether he'll be ready or not."
Even Domenech, normally so upbeat and buoyant about his team, is speaking cautiously about his opponents. With the Netherlands on Friday and Italy to follow four days later in Group C, France can ill-afford to slip up against Romania.
"The Romanians qualified ahead of the Netherlands, so I don't see why we they would be weaker all of a sudden," Domenech said. "The whole Romanian team is good, with good players."
Piturca vs. Domenech also throws up an intriguing contrast of coaching styles.
Piturca favours attacking flair, Domenech goes for defensive solidity above all, which is odd considering that he has some of Europe's best strikers at his disposal.