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


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.

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