BUSSIGNY, Switzerland:France has key players injured and lacking in fitness ahead of Monday's European Championship match against a Romania team desperate to make its mark on the big stage.
Two-time champion France may be the favorite for the match in Zurich, but the Romanians are confident put on a good show at Euro 2008.
"We'd like to be the surprise of the tournament," Romania striker Adrian Mutu said. "The time has come for us to show our value."
There is perhaps no better time to play France, which generally gets stronger the longer a tournament goes on. Captain Patrick Vieira is out with an injury, while defenders Willy Sagnol, William Gallas and Lilian Thuram have been sweating hard to be ready to play in Zurich.
Franck Ribery and Thierry Henry are also not 100 percent, and playmaker Samir Nasri is struggling with a cold. Henry, troubled by a sciatic nerve for the past two seasons, trained alone on Saturday with fitness trainer Robert Duverne, just as he had done on Friday.
With 17 goals for Fiorentina in this season, Mutu will be eager to exploit lapses in a French defense, which looked wobbly in a friendly against Colombia.
However, that is easier said than done.
France has not conceded a goal in the last four games and has only been breached 23 times in 51 games under coach Raymond Domenech.
"We have to work out their weak points. They don't have many and there will likely only be two or three opportunities to score," Mutu said. "I know what is expected of me by the country and I hope not to disappoint."
Given its injury and fitness doubts, the mood in the French camp has been restrained and subdued. The injury to Vieira, who tore his left thigh on May 30 in a training session, has been the main talking point all week. Domenech has ruled the Inter Milan midfielder out of Monday's game, but hopes to get him back for later.
"We get the impression he will be fine," France winger Sidney Govou said. "We feel he's getting a little better every day. But only him and the (team) doctor can say whether he'll be ready or not."
Even Domenech, normally so upbeat and buoyant about his team, is speaking cautiously about his opponents. With the Netherlands on Friday and Italy to follow four days later in Group C, France can ill-afford to slip up against Romania.
"The Romanians qualified ahead of the Netherlands, so I don't see why we they would be weaker all of a sudden," Domenech said. "The whole Romanian team is good, with good players."
Romania held the Dutch to a 0-0 draw in Rotterdam, and won 1-0 at home to top its qualifying with a 9-2-1 record.
"They will be very motivated as they want to prove to the world that they are one of up and coming teams," France backup goalkeeper Sebastien Frey said on Saturday.
Piturca vs. Domenech also throws up an intriguing contrast of coaching styles.
A free-scoring striker, Piturca scored 165 goals in 175 games for Steaua Bucharest and won the European Cup in 1986. Domenech, a gritty defender nicknamed "the leg breaker," never reached those heights, and only won a handful of caps for his country. He also has a modest coaching record at club level.
Piturca favors attacking flair, Domenech goes for defensive solidity above all, which is odd considering that he has some of Europe's best strikers at his disposal.
Despite their reputations, Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema all missed good chances in warm-up games against Ecuador, Paraguay and Colombia.
"The lack of opportunism we showed doesn't not worry me," France midfielder Claude Makelele said. "We are capable of scoring at any moment with the attackers we have got."
That has not been the case recently.
Saint-Etienne forward Bafetimbi Gomis, a surprise call up to Domenech's Euro 2008 squad, is the only player to score from open play in France's last five games, getting both goals in a 2-0 win over Ecuador on May 27.
In the past five games, Les Bleus have scored only four times _ and two of those have been penalties by Ribery. Anelka has not scored in his last 22 matches, Henry seems lacking in confidence after a mediocre season for FC Barcelona, and Benzema has only netted once in his last seven games overall.
No problem, insists Makelele.
"We have always been patient. What we must do, above all, is to keep the qualities we showed in qualifying," Makelele said. "A defensive block which allows the team to throw itself forward in search of goals."
The teams last met at Euro 1996, with France winning their opening match 1-0. Domenech would settle for that again, but Romania is confident of an upset.
"France is a great team but it's not invincible," veteran Romania defender Cosmin Contra said.