France, as the BBC’s commentator Steve Wilson said as the final whistle went, are in trouble. True enough, but we were all in trouble this afternoon, heading home from work as quickly as possible in order to catch the whole of this afternoon’s match between France & Romania. It was an absolute stinker. Neither team managed any serious shots on goal and what was so striking about the match was the Romania were so very seldom put under any pressure whatsoever. It felt as if the French either couldn’t really be bothered, didn’t have any confidence or simply believed that all that they had to do was turn up and the three points would eventually, somehow find their way to them. One suspects that there was a little from columns A, B and C at play here, but the biggest single contributing factor seemed to be a lackadaisical attitude – they gave possession away needlessly on many occasions – and the amount of space the Romania had when they did break out of defence.
Where did it go so horribly wrong for France, then? It goes without saying that they have never satisfactorily replaced Zinedine Zidane after the 2006 World Cup (how could they have done?), but the lack of creativity in the centre of midfield seems to stifle the rest of the team. There is no room for the full-backs to get forward. Franck Ribery, their best hope of finding the combination with which to unlock the Romanian defence, was an almost embarrassingly peripheral figure on the right hand side of the French midfield, coming inside in the vain hope of trying to breathe a little life into a deflated performance. Ultimately, though, they played at little more than walking pace and this was straight into the hands of a Romanian side that one suspected would have quite liked to win the match but weren’t going to take risks in order if it meant that they might the precious single point that was within their grasp.
When France did show any urgency, they looked plenty capable of winning the match. A mis-hit shot was comfortably gathered the Romanian goalkeeper Lobont. Maloud had a run at the Romanian defence and shot narrowly wide – the nearest that they came to scoring in the entire match. Ultimately, though, they were utterly tamed by a Romanian side that was unambitious but seldom needed to do much more than maintain their attention. In the last ten minutes they hesitantly pushed forward and could even have won the match from a corner in injury time, when Daniel Nicolae mis-hit a shot that he could easily have found the goal with.
The Romanian performance could easily be described as “unambitious”, but this overlooks the fact that they achieved greater than anything that many would have anticipated. They managed the point that somehow leaves their chances of qualifying looker better than those of France, and they never had their backs to the wall in order to do so. More troublingly four UEFA, only four of the ten teams that have played so far have managed to score. The draw may open up the Group Of Death to a potential upset, but the watching public could do with considerably less of what we saw this evening.