Eight years after being crowned European champions for the second time, "les Bleus" launch their Euro 2008 campaign this evening against Romania, viewed as the weakest team in the Group of Death.
France launch a new era in tentative fashion when they kick off their Euro 2008 campaign against Romania on Monday.
The 2006 World Cup runners-up, facing a daunting task in a tough Group C also featuring Netherlands and world champions Italy, are unsure what to expect from their first major finals in more than a decade without Zinedine Zidane as playmaker.
With the balding maestro now retired France need to find a new talisman and the right balance between ageing stalwarts and exciting youngsters.
There is room for hope with winger Franck Ribery ready to take over Zidane's role and 20-year-old striker Karim Benzema determined to prove himself on the big stage.
But concerns persist after a struggle to qualify, timid performances in warmup games and the thigh injury sustained by captain Patrick Vieira that will sideline him in Zurich on Monday.
"That match will throw us into the tournament or into the lake," France coach Raymond Domenech told reporters.
The pressure will be on Domenech's side as Romania, who failed to qualify for the last three major competitions, have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
"We are not here for a holiday," said Romania right back Cosmin Contra. "We are aiming to reach the quarter-finals and play good football in what is an illustrious group.
"A positive result against France is key and could spur us on to great things."
Romania, who won their qualifying group ahead of Netherlands, have a solid defence well protected by defensive midfielder and captain Cristian Chivu.
Coach Victor Piturca will attempt to catch the French on the counter-attack with proven finisher Adrian Mutu, who has scored 17 goals in his last 20 qualifying matches.
France are likely to take a cautious approach.
"Our strength has to come from the back," said midfielder Claude Makelele, who is likely to be paired with Jeremy Toulalan in front of the defence in Vieira's absence.
"First of all we must concentrate on not conceding a goal. The important thing is not to lose that quality we have at the back, knowing up front we have players capable of scoring at any time."
Domenech, tired of his reputation as a coach who has never won anything, is expected to opt for a compact 4-4-2 formation with Thierry Henry and Benzema up front.
Anchoring the defence will be 36-year-old Lilian Thuram, one of the few survivors of the generation who put France on the map by lifting the 1998 World Cup on home soil.
"We have our doubts but when we are in that situation it usually makes us play better," said Thuram.
Date created : 2008-06-09