Piturca frustrates French flair
Arguably the toughest group of the four, Group C began in Zurich on Monday afternoon and while France avoided an opening loss, Raymond Domenech may feel like defeat did befall his side. Whether it was the heat, as Willy Sagnol and Samir Nasri complained afterwards, the tension, injuries or defensive tactics, the life was slowly squeezed from this match and possibly France's chances of progressing. While attention had been focused on Italy, Holland and France in Group C, it could be Romania who have the final say on how the group pans out.
It is the modern coach's dilemma: Play 4-4-2 and give your central striker a partner to play with, or 4-5-1 to keep three players in the vital midfield area. So far, during this competition, there have been variations on both, but only Germany have been successful playing 4-4-2, with a very attack-minded Michael Ballack in the middle.
France, by contrast, have no Ballack, and no forward on show capable of linking midfield and attack. Where Makelele and Toulalan sat protecting their defence, the German captain was prepared to leave Torsten Frings on his own as he joined his forwards. Where Mario Gomez linked with Klose and Podolski, Anelka and Benzema looked like a partnership which needs time. Something Domenech hasn't got.
This left the Romanian defence with the easier task of playing with everything in front of them, so rarely did France break behind their lines. For France, there was a big gap between the midfield pair and the front two. A Zinedine Zidane-sized gap.
Concentration and Chivu the key
Many of the Romanians put in shifts which warrant a few days off, but the prospect of facing a wounded Italy on Friday won't allow that. The French-based Daniel Niculae showed Karim Benzema how to make the most of his talent by covering tirelessly across the line, holding the ball up and keeping all four defenders occupied at times. He frequently held off Gallas and Thuram, buying time and space for Romania to re-group. With Adrian Mutu looking to exploit any space between Willy Sagnol and Lilian Thuram, the French defence was never totally secure.
At left back Razvan Rat was often faced with the man France now turn to for inspiration, Franck Ribery. Rarely did Les Bleus manage to get early balls to the winger, but when they did Rat was tight to his man, but never too tight that he risked being turned.
But the main reason why Ribery saw so little quality possession was that Romania coach Victor Piturca had made ideal use of Cristian Chivu's many talents. Instead of deploying Chivu in defence, Piturca positioned the skipper on the left of a midfield three, blocking the French route to Ribery.
When Domenech observed afterwards that his team had played "without freedom", he could have been describing half of Chivu's achievements. But this would overlook the other half - his masterly calm in tight situations which enabled his team to counterattack and relieve pressure on Bogdan Lobont's goal.
For a few minutes in the first half Domenech switched Ribery to the left, tucked Malouda inside and asked Toulalan to cover the right flank. Clearly unused to this role, the Lyon midfielder looked unhappy, and the French midfield was further unbalanced. The experiment did not last long, Ribery's escape from Chivu lasted only a matter of minutes.
Football is not all fantasy. There is beauty in more than football's end product, the goal. In tactics, in thought, in team play, in guile, the Romanians deserved a draw and may yet have a big say in who survives this most competitive of groups. And those who write off Domenech at this early stage should remember 2006.