Thursday, December 2, 2021

Underdogs Romania plot hat-trick seekers´ downfall

SoccerNews in European Championships, Ligue 1 9 Jun 2008


Romania's Scottish Premier League-based striker Marius Niculae believes his countrymen should use a little Highland know-how if they are to bely their underdog tag and silence France's bark in Monday's Group C opener in Zurich.

Raymond Domenech's France are vying for favouritism to lift the championships and will be out to reinforce that status against a Romanian side that pipped fellow Group C rivals the Dutch in qualifying.

And Niculae, who plays for Inverness Caledonian Thistle, reckons Romania are in with a squeak of upsetting the two time winners and 2006 World Cup finalists if they follow the example set by Scotland, who beat France twice in qualifying.

“Maybe we can learn something from the way the Scots played against France,” the 27-year-old attacker suggested.

“They were very compact and took their chances when they came along. Our first game is the most important game because we want a good start and we hope to get some points on the board against France,” he told

Teaming up with Niculae in trying to breach the seasoned French defence which has not leaked a goal in their last four matches is Adrian Mutu.

The Fiorentina forward reckons that if Romania make it out of the group of death it will surpass their last eight placing in 2000 from a group featuring Portugal, England and holders Germany.

Mutu, in his first major finals since, said: “It was a hard group in 2000 but we didn't have to play the World Cup winners and the team they played in the final. None of the teams wish to play in this group. It is the hardest group ever.”

Yet Mutu, reeling after being confronted with a 12 million euro lost revenue bill from Chelsea over his seven month cocaine ban in 2003, doesn't underestimate the monumental task facing them.

“We have a tough draw on paper and only those who like an adrenalin rush would bet on us, but we will do our best and a positive result against France would give us real impetus for the games against Italy and Holland. As our captain Cristian Chivu said, 'It's time for us to show what we can do'.”

France, facing their first finals without the master, Zinedine Zidane, look set to be bereft of their captain, Patrick Vieira, unless the seasoned midfielder passes an eleventh-hour fitness test on his injured thigh.

Lyon midfielder Jeremy Toulalan is being readied to fill Vieira's place, with Claude Makelele commenting: “(Jeremy) Toulalan and Patrick have different qualities.

“There is a great complicity between Toulalan and myself. When I move up he sits in front of the defence. There's no problem. You adapt to your opponents. We are intelligent enough to read their game and make adjustments – it's up to the players to decide.”

For most it is Franck Ribery who has taken over the baton from Zidane.

The Bayern Munich star is in red hot form after lifting the league title and Cup in his first season in Germany and striking a penalty in last Tuesday's final prep against Colombia to mark in the best possible way Thierry Henry's 100th cap.

However, all is not shiny in the French castle as Arsenal defender William Gallas pointed out in vastly different terms – at the end of May Gallas – who has come out of a turbulent season at his club with many questioning whether he deserved to be captain – said that he felt really confortable with the squad.

But following the win over Colombia he felt free to criticise.

“It is vital there is more communication in the defence, and also that the whole team defends together,” said Gallas.

Back at the 2006 World Cup there was a noticeable lack of public support for Domenech's Les Bleus during the first round group phase.

Two years on and Gallic confidence is seemingly back with a survey for sports daily L'Equipe on Saturday suggesting one in three fans back home believe France can win this Euro.

But Domenech is taking nothing for granted ahead, and assessing the complexities of Group C he said: “All four teams have the same chance.

“Romania finished above the Netherlands in qualifying so I see no reason why we should now say they are weaker. They're a solid team and are very capable of hurting opponents on the counterattack.

“We're not arriving with our hands in our pockets thinking we're going to win easily.”


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