France's hopes of booking a direct passage into next summer's World Cup finals
suffered a setback after they were held to a draw by Romania in Paris tonight.
The hosts had gone ahead after 48 minutes when Thierry Henry forced home from
close range, but the equaliser arrived eight minutes later when Julien Escude
turned the ball into his own net. The result leaves France four points adrift of leaders Serbia, who they meet in
a crunch match in Belgrade on Wednesday.
The result is likely to pour pressure on France coach Raymond Domenech who
opted to start star winger Franck Ribery on the bench, no doubt with Wednesday's
game in mind, while Escude was preferred to Barcelona defender Eric Abidal.
The returning Patrice Evra forced Abidal from the right-back role with Domenech
deciding to partner Escude alongside William Gallas in the centre of defence.
Romania knew anything but a win would effectively end their qualification
hopes, and had to do without striker Adrian Mutu. France immediately threatened through Henry who thrashed a shot at goal that
goalkeeper Danut Coman tipped past the post.
Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra then blasted an ambitious drive over from
30 yards. The home side almost got reward for their early endeavour after 17 minutes when
Henry headed home a Yoann Gourcuff free-kick, only for the goal to be ruled
Gourcuff's creative influence was providing headaches for the Romanians who
were happy to see him shoot over from the edge of the area before his corner was
turned past the post by Nicolas Anelka.
Just before the half hour Coman parried another Gourcuff shot away from
For all of France's dominance they almost conceded an equaliser four minutes
before the interval when Romeo Surdu fired a shot against the post from 12
France did go ahead after the break and it their skipper Henry who was on hand
to score. William Gallas outjumped his marker at the back post to head Gourcuff's corner
on target with Henry lurking to force it home.
It should have been a moment to ease the nerves around the Stade de France, but
just eight minutes the visitors were level. The Romanians surged forward down the right flank and a cross behind the
retreating defence was turned into his own net by Escude with an outstretched
Domenech responded by immediately bringing on Ribery for Andre-Pierre Gignac,
but the Bayern Munich winger struggled to impose himself.
After 72 minutes Karim Benzema was introduced for Gourcuff and almost got the
winner two minutes later when his 25-yard free-kick thundered into the
crossbar. But if the French crowd expected their side to issue a late rally it never came
with Romania easily able to keep their hosts at bay.
Jeremy Toulalan hit a long-range drive at Coman, but it was easily dealt with
by the goalkeeper and ensure that France's midweek fixture against Serbia will
be a must-win fixture.