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France and Romania prove to be equally strong

France has been here before, when it stumbled to a scoreless draw in its opening match at the World Cup before making it all the way to the final.

This time, however, the recovery act could be a lot harder to pull off.

"Now every match lost means elimination," France coach Raymond Domenech said.

Les Bleus were held to a 0-0 draw by Romania on Monday in a defensive match at the European Championship almost entirely lacking in scoring chances.

"Maybe the French are bored with playing at the highest level and let us Romanians win a point," Piturca said.

With captain Patrick Vieira out injured and record scorer Thierry Henry on the bench, France edged possession but failed to penetrate a Romanian back line led by Gabriel Tamas, with regular defensive pick Cristian Chivu in midfield as part of a formation drawn up by coach Victor Piturca.

It may have been conservative, but it worked.

Domenech noted the similarities between the match and the 0-0 draw with Switzerland in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. France followed that with a 1-1 result against South Korea, and secured a place in the second round with a 2-0 victory over Togo.

"The history of this match is almost exactly the same: the heat, the field, the stadium were reminiscent," Domenech said. "That match was also tense, but that's always the case in the first match."

The result leaves France and Romania with one point in Group C, the toughest of the competition's first round. France plays the Netherlands on Friday and then finishes up against Italy next week.

That looks a lot tougher than South Korea and Togo.

The best chance fell to France striker Nicolas Anelka in the 33rd minute. After a short corner, Franck Ribery's cross into the Romanian box evaded everyone, bouncing up high to Anelka at the far post. The 29-year-old Chelsea player had time to pick a spot with his header, but sent the ball over the crossbar.

France seemed intent on controlling the match early, spreading the ball around the midfield with ease but failing to penetrate. Without Henry, who has not trained in four days, France's tactical play lacked creativity. The team has yet to disclose the nature of the 30-year-old FC Barcelona striker's injury.

"We knew we would be up against a well organized team, well grouped in defense," said midfielder Claude Makelele, who was named man of the match. "We did what we had to do, except that we could not create clear chances. This Romania team was solid at the back and did not make many mistakes."

While France had all the first-half possession, Romania looked for opportunities to counter.

Adrian Mutu had one shot blocked and sent another wide, before latching onto a 40-meter (yard) pass from Cosmin Contra. He headed back to Daniel Niculae, but the 25-year-old striker's shot from distance was well wide.

The second half was similarly tight, with few chances for either side.

Florent Malouda carved out a chance for himself in the 49th after dribbling past two defenders. His 15-meter (yard) shot had power, but was much too high.

Willy Sagnol tackled Mutu from behind two minutes later and 25 meters (yards) from goal, but the Fiorentina striker shot the free kick straight into the wall.

"We will see the other Mutu against Italy," Piturca said. "The real Mutu."

In the 57th, Benzema had a chance from 16 meters (yards) after more good work down the right from Ribery, who was increasingly coming into the match. The 20-year-old Lyon player was unmarked, but shot tamely at goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont.

France replaced Anelka in the 72nd with Bafetimbi Gomis, who made his first appearance for the national team last month and scored twice as a second-half substitute.

But even the 22-year-old striker's fresh legs could not inject energy into the match, as both teams looked resigned to a draw. France took off Benzema and Romania subbed Mutu as each team solidified its midfield.

Vieira pulled out of training last month with a slight left thigh tear, but was confirmed in Domenech's squad on Monday at the last minute.

"France is not at the level of football the world is used to. We saw this today," Piturca said.