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5 Romanian clubs, 1 step away from the Europa League group stage

August 25, 2011 Leave a comment

It all went surprisingly well in the first leg. Away wins, wins to nil at home, goals scored away by the only two out of five teams defeated last Thursday. It all went too well, actually, so let’s take a look at what could go wrong in tonight’s matches…

Dinamo Bucuresti – Vorskla Poltava (1-2)
The Red Dogs were unfortunate to receive a second goal in the 89th minute, but they couldn’t hold on anymore after Grigore’s dismissal for a second yellow card, in the 65th minute. Besides the centre-back, another two important players will be missing through suspension, striker Marius Niculae, who has been in terrific form this season, and promising winger Marius Alexe. With Gabriel Torje already thinking about his move to Udinese, it might be tougher than the 10.000 fans are probably expecting.

Gaz Metan Medias – Austria Vienna (1-3)

The away goal is important, but this small team needs to produce another miracle, after sending out on penalties Mainz, in the previous round. Florin Bratu and Thaer Bawab both scored on Monday in a perfect 3-0 win against newly promoted Vointa Sibiu, with winger Ciprian Petre confirming my expectations and providing two assists in that game. The problem is that Medias scored only after a set play, with Vointa easily defending in a first half that so no clear cut chances and no goals. Although Cristi Pustai rested team captain Todea, he lost Georgian defender Akaky through injury, who joins attacking midfielders Parvulescu, Dudita and Muntean on the sidelines…

CSKA Sofia – Steaua Bucuresti (0-2)

After a very open game in the first leg, in which the Bulgarian side missed a huge chance to score a vital away goal through… Romanian forward Ianis Zicu, I expect a very open match in Sofia. And looking how Steaua desperately defended at times last Thursday, this could easily go wrong, in spite of what looks like a perfect score. Ronny Levy has problems at right back, where he lost both Gabriel Matei and Novak Martinovic, so will have to improvise with Banel Nicolita, whom lots of managers consider better in this role. But he is a good coach, with a good possession & attacking philosophy and a single goal should be enough to temper and eliminate the home side.

Rapid Bucuresti – Slask Wroclaw (3-1)

I know Slask is doing great in Ekstraklassa, but they have been totally outplayed in the first leg, by a quicker, more aggressive and better organized team. Can’t see what could go wrong here, with Rapid free of injuries and suspensions, a team that won a few days ago in the league even without several first team players that should be fresh and in top form for tonight’s game.

Sparta Prague – FC Vaslui (0-2)

This result came as a huge surprise to me, but FC Vaslui deserves full credit for taking advantage of a terrible day from Sparta, who couldn’t take advantage of the home side’s improvised first eleven. Lucian Sanmartean was absolutely outstanding on the day, tormenting Sparta’s defense with his dribbling ability and vision in the last third and today he will be joined upfront by another 2 key players for Vaslui: Wesley and Adailton! So, scoring an away goal is definitely on the cards, as Sparta will have no choice, but to take chances and push forward, and it would be a nice reward for Vaslui’s owner, who has been spending a lot of cash to constantly improve the team and always push for a higher position in the league. The Romanian club will remain vulnerable at the back, where 21 years old striker Ionut Balaur should start his fourth game as a central defender, so Sparta can find a way back in this, by scoring one and hoping that the pressure in the final minutes will be too much for a team without European experience and unable to be as solid at it can be in defense.

Gabriel Torje looks to have found his next club: Udinese!

August 21, 2011 2 comments

Gabriel Torje, a little winger with a big potential. Off he goes!

The news broke after Dinamo’s 2-0 win away at Sportul Studentesc, a game Gabriel Torje wasn’t able to finish, with the words “it’s not serious, felt suffocated” on his lips while taken off the pitch by Dinamo’s worried medical staff. The young international might have lost his breath while making yet another attempt to impress, but according to prosport.ro and gsp.ro Dinamo finally got a pleasing offer for the player, of 4 or 5 million Euros offered by Udinese. So, risking a physical punishment from the experienced Marius Niculae for playing mostly on his own, looking for goals, Torje might be lucky enough this time to dribble his way out of this, all the way to Italy.

It might look like an excellent deal for the Bucharest side, who also sold a couple of years ago Stefan Radu to Lazio, for 5,4 mil. E, but it’s not and the Red Dogs were right to invest in the little winger, but wrong to pay initially 2 mil. E to Politehnica Timisoara for only 50% of his transfer rights. With the other half bought for a similar amount and no trophies won while having the player in the team, they can only be proud to have offered Torje the chance to impress, which he obviously did.

Promoted by Gheorghe Hagi when he was still 16 and dubbed by Timisoara’s fans “Messi from Banat” (Banat is a region in the Western part of the country), Messi, sorry, Torje deserves credit for staying focused on the job, in spite of a couple of delicate moments, which usually happen to every young player that meets the Capital’s nightlife. He kept on improving as a player, getting better and better on and off the ball, which you could notice every once in while, in between the numerous episodes from the past year when he was annoyingly selfish.

Even so, his record isn’t bery impressing, with 19 goals and 23 assists in 129 matches played for Dinamo in all competitions. He also collected 9 caps in Romania’s senior and often pathetic national team, scoring once. Previously monitorred by Paris Saint Germain, Hamburg, Wolfsburg or Lille, he’s finally off and it’s hard to find a better club than Udinese in promoting such a young player. He might not turn into Messi, but if “I friulani” make him good enough to play alongside Messi, it should be good enough, right?

PS For any abuse that might follow if tomorrow morning it was just another false press report, please use the above mentioned websites. Thanks! :-)

 

Europa League’s group stage: who’s going to make it?

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

With five team knocking at the door this season and some average opposition in most of the cases, Romanian football hopes to grab this chance by the throat and try another good season in Europe, where it can still send directly into the group stage of the Champions League the champion club, even its name is Otelul Galati.

Steaua Bucharest – CSKA Sofia

The game will be played in Cluj, as Steaua has been forced to abandon their stadium in Bucharest and, in spite of playing tonight in front of a lot of fans, they will look once again as if they’re playing away from home. The two clubs fought all summer for the signature of Brazilian forward Ribeiro Moraes, who decided in the end to play for CSKA, while the Bulgarians’ main threat is considered Liga I’s top scorer from last season, Ianis Zicu.

Steaua will field a decent starting eleven, but Levy still has a lot of work to do to get this team going, as it badly misses creative players in midfield, but relies on two quick forwards, Tatu and Mihai Costea, to make the difference.

Slask Wroclaw – Rapid Bucharest

During the weekend, Rapid deployed a surprising 4-4-2 against newly promoted Petrolul, a match which they struggled to win (1-0, goals scored in the 87th minute), but this might have been part of a strategy to deceive the Polish club. Razvan Lucescu knows how to approach such games and he was there when Rapid managed the club’s best ever performance in an European competition. I expect a return to a 4-3-3 with Romeo Surdu and Ciprian Deac on the flanks, a midfield trio formed by Iulian Apostol, Dan Alexa and Ovidiu Herea, but the player that has impressed the most is Marcos Antonio, the rock solid Brazilian centre-back, who will certainly play a big part especially in this first leg.

Vorskla Poltava – Dinamo Bucharest

Dinamo hasn’t changed under Liviu Ciobotariu and, if this team stands a chance to get a result, than the attacking line must produce at least a couple of goals. It has worked so far, but the away game versus NK Varazdin could have gone wrong in a lot of delicate moments. Dinamo cannot use the promising Marius Alexe on the left wing – accused by fans that he’s not playing as good as he can since Chelsea added his name on what is probably a very long shortlist – and will move there the experienced Catalin Munteanu. It might be good for him, as Munteanu has an excellent service and the veteran Ionel Danciulesc plus Dinamo’s captain Marius Niculae could use some quality balls upfront. All eyes will be once again on the dynamic little right winger Gabriel Torje, who catches the eye, but could also “catch a black eye” if he keeps playing by himself every single time  he gets a pass in a good position.

FC Vaslui – Sparta Prague

Vaslui’s in a mess. They have finally scored, after four consecutive matches in which they had failed, but the win against newly promoted Concordia Chiajna has a cost: the Brazilian Adailton, who provided 3 assists in the 3-0 away success, is now injured and his name is added on a very long list. Team captain Wesley is suspended for this game, but coach Viorel Hizo has a depleated team, with central defenders Papp, Canu, Milanov and Gladstone injured, plus midfielders Pavlovic and Milisavljevic transfer listed and recently excluded from the team.

Austria Vienna – Gaz Metan Medias

Gaz Metan managed to survive in the double against Mainz, going through on penalties, but they will also face Austria Vienna against several first team players. In fact, Cristi Pustai has been forced to give up  the impressive trio of supporting players for the lone striker, as Parvulescu and Munteanu are out injured and Brazilian key attacking midfielder and prolific scorer Eric de Oliveira is on the verge of switching clubs before the transfer window closes. It will all come down to Gaz Metan’s ability to defend, which can look average at times, and their luck to score at least once in tonight’s encounter, when they should be more dangerous on set-plays than on counter-attacks.

Adailton assists FC Vaslui’s first win of the season

August 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Last season’s third placed team, FC Vaslui, went on a run of four defeats without a single goal scored at the beggining of the season, moving from the qualifying matches for the Champions League to the Europa League play-off in the meantime and looking very poor in Liga I.

Adrian Porumboiu, the owner, looked more reasonable than usual and yesterday the team delivered. A 3-0 away win against the newly promoted Concordia Chiajna might not have anything extraordinary about it, but it surely is a sign that this team cannot perform worse than last season, at least not against Romanian opposition. My guess is that Sparta Prague’s emissaries also returned home with some worrying notes…

If the Prague outfit still relies on experience, that’s something Vaslui doesn’t lack either, with the Brazilian duo Adailton-Wesley finally producing a performance closer to its standards. Adailton managed to provide the last pass for each of Vaslui’s goals, but the first, scored by Wesley, was a sign of perfect synchronization between the two forwards. With one of his often decisive late runs in the box, Wesley scored his 33rd goal in Liga I in 82 appearances and is only three goals shy of the all-time best foreign scorer in the Romanian league, the Albanese striker who used to play for Dinamo Bucharest, Sulejman Demollari.

It would be a mistake to get carried away, though, as Vaslui still has to wait until the 10th of September to have a transfer ban lifted and the team certainly is short on luck, with the starting pair in central defense, Paul Papp – Gabriel Canu, recently injured.  The club is in such a mess that against Chiajna Viorel Hizo paired Pavol Farkas with a Romanian player who is in the squad for a few years, but was kept there as a solution for the attack, not the back four! It might have worked against Chiajna, but it could go very wrong against Sparta and Porumboiu – although he deserves credit for paying high wages and brining good foreign players in the league – has to take part most of the blame for not having a youth center and a reserve team able to supply the first squad with a decent youngster in such difficult times…

Thank you, San Marino!

August 11, 2011 3 comments

This goes out to the security guards, the policemen, the honest workers that every once in a while get together to play in San Marino’s national team. They did it again on Wednesday evening, when offered the Romanian national team yet another chance of a fresh start, under the recently appointed head coach Victor Piturca. The match that ended with a 1-0 win for our national team was helpful for a lot of reasons and you can find some below:

  • Showed us exactly where we are at this point: slightly better than one of the worst national teams in the world.
  • Offered another strong reason to get rid of some of our “star players”, with Adrian Mutu and Gabriel Tamas excluded from the national team after returning late to the hotel from a few hours break offered by Piturca.
  • Helped the always generous Banel Nicolita fulfill yet another dream, as he wore the armband on his 31st cap.
  • Proved to Piturca that 75% of those called up to refresh the national team cannot play better here than they are doing at club level. What a surprise!
  • Made the coach think very seriously about avoiding the same mistake done by his predecessor, Razvan Lucescu, who was called to rebuild the squad in the middle of a campaign and decided to defy the odds and fight for a qualifying spot, having to rebuild at the beginning of the next one, when he should have had the team ready to go.

It’s all in Pantilimon’s hands now – not a bad situation for a goalkeeper, right?

August 7, 2011 4 comments

After Bogdan Stancu’s 6 million Euros move to Galatasaray in the previous winter mercato, another Romanian club is involved in a major transfer deal this summer, as Costel Pantilimon moves to Manchester City in a loan deal with an undisclosed buying clause in 2012, depending on his season with the Citizens.

"Gulliver" gets his shot to make it. Big deal for the big lad, but not necessarily for Politehnica Timisoara too...

Ok, Stancu’s move was fishy, because he was probably worth half that sum, but we would have not moved a muscle if Pantilimon’s transfer fee/conditions were made public. It was Manchester City, the mercato champions of recent years… The surprise of an undisclosed fee was even bigger, as Politehnica Timisoara was also involved, a club that used to impress with its transparency being partially financed by the city’s local council. Put this two together and add the information that Udinese was ready to sign Pantilimon this summer in a permanent deal and you’ll get the image of a deal that would have made City’s sheik look like they’re running out of money. Or, even worse, start to look a bit cheap!

Timisoara’s usually vocal owner, Marian Iancu, limited himself to the following announcement: “The club still co-owns the goalkeeper, as we aim to earn as much as possible from his transfer. The longer it takes to complete the deal, the more money we’ll be making and we’re talking in millions.”

Basically, it is all in the hands of the big lad who was impressing only in size at second division outfit Aerostar Bacau, six years ago. Timisoara’s current number two, Gheorghe Chivorchian, who used to run another club from Bacau, FCM, decided to “splash” 50.000 Euros, at Gheorghe Hagi’s request, but apparently made what now looks like a very costly mistake when negotiating the deal: accepted a 30% sell on clause, which might just be one of the reasons Timisoara makes the transfer to City look so complicated and mysterious.

The Viola outfit probably got lot less from Manchester than what Udinese was ready to pay upfront, but certainly puts its hopes in Pantilimon’s chances to fulfill his potential at a top club. Problem is, Roberto Mancini doesn’t like to rest his number 1 and a look at the previous season shows that England’s number one played 38 games in the Premier League, but also 8 in the FA Cup and another 9 in a Europa League campaign that would have made Harry Redknapp put the gloves on himself, in an attempt to avoid fatigue and injuries to such a vital member of the squad.

So, does Pantilimon really have a chance to impress and earn Timisoara more money in his one season loan with an undisclosed buying clause? I guess not, but on a personal level he should definitely benefit, training with the best and entering a regime that will do him more good than 100 more official appearances in Liga I.

He still needs to improve his ability to deal with high balls, yes, at 2,02 m, Pantilimon has “a short leash” and his focus needs to be a lot better, which is something a bit different than his desire to deliver in the big games – see the excellent performances for Romania on “Parc des Princes” or for Timisoara in the European ties against Shakthar Donetsk and, no coincidence, Manchester City. He wasn’t always convincing for Timisoara in Liga I, which lead to a lost battle with Steaua’s Ciprian Tatarusanu for the number one spot in Romania’s national team in the last year, so this transfer comes at a possibly critical moment of his development. If he goes up or down from here, it’s all up to him, but I reckon the decent/hard working goalie will keep his feet on the ground, the eyes on the ball and catch this big chance, not palm it away.

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