Tonight, last season’s champions and runners-up will enter a competition with an incredible financial stake considering their yearly budget and both CFR and FC Vaslui will give it all to reach the group stage of the Champions League. Unfortunately, a tough task awaits, with two preliminary rounds against tough opposition in front of them and a difficult first set of teams to knock-out.
With two draws in the first two rounds of the season, CFR Cluj will face tonight Slovan Liberec, a team I saw quite a few times last season and relies on a solid, experienced back-bone, losing this summer one important piece of the puzzle: the enthusiastic right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie. Latest news from the opposition’s camp should be encouraging for the hosts, as Slovan will miss Nezmar and Rabusic, key players in defense and attack. CFR’s main weakness is at the back and coach Ioan Andone admits that “there are issues there that need to be addressed, but it’s good to see that the players are aware of this and refuse to celebrate properly even when they score a goal”. Andone fears Slovan’s striking force and highlights the Czechs’ scoring record from the previous season and he announced that in the first leg the main goal is to avoid conceding at home. CFR’s main strength is the ability of Greek striker Pantelis Kapetanos to find a decisive strike out of the blue. He did it twice in Liga I so far and will be at the end of most of the Romanians’ attacking moves tonight.
You can read more on CFR Cluj here.
FC Vaslui has a more difficult task than the champions, having to make its’ debut on Fenerbahce’s stadium, in a very hostile environment and against a strong and ambitious squad. Coach Marius Sumudica looks set to use his team’s main strength, the attack, in the away game, hoping that the goal(s) scored will make the difference after 180 minutes. “We are not in Istanbul to defend, we want to score!”, warned Sumudica, who started the season well, with a win and a draw, scoring 5 goals in the process. The team lost its’ star, Wesley (the Brazilian would have missed the first leg anyway through suspension), but has added some quality players to the team, having experience at both ends, thanks to goalkeeper Dani Coman and striker Marius Niculae. Vaslui’s main weakness is the lack of cohesion within a squad that has a lot of new faces in the ideal starting eleven, but will be encouraged by the first displays of the newcomers, as well as the input of Lucian Sanmartean, who stepped up immediately after Wesley’s departure and looks in great physical shape, orchestrating most of the attacks and causing panic with his excellent runs down the left flank.
You can read more on FC Vaslui here.
Wonderful performance from George Tucudean, who had started the season with 5 goals in 34 appearances in the top flight! The 21 years old striker took advantage of a very weak opponent and scored on Sunday evening four goals (and offered one assist, too!) in the 5-2 win against CSMS Iasi. He did all that in less than an hour, before being substituted with veteran striker Ionel Danciulescu, and in the second game started since another experienced fron man, Marius Niculae, had left the club and signed for FC Vaslui.
Now Tucudean – who had started the season in style, with a brace scored in the Romanian Supercup – will have to prove that his numbers were indeed affected by a competition that hasn’t always been fair in Dinamo’s attack, who desperately needed new blood. It will be a test of character and mental strength for the player that a few years ago was tested by Celtic to rise up to the occasion and take the chance to establish himself as a constintent performer at a good age. A test that won’t be easy, considering the fact that right after the game the youngster spoke without reservation of following the footsteps of his idol, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the friendly against Barcelona, scheduled on the 11th of August. A test he started worse than the season that could influence decisively his career…
Position last season: 1st place
CFR was one of the least impressive champions in recent years and I would rate the team below the likes of Unirea Urziceni and Otelul Galati, considered huge surprises when they won the league, although they did possess two vital attributes: physical preparation and tactical discipline.
Brought to avoid what looked like a probable poor end of the season, Ioan Andone didn’t manage to take more out of the team than his predecessor, Jorge Costa, the former fierce FC Porto defender. The squad looked old, slow, predictable, lacked style and impressive performers (Greek striker Pantelis Kapetanos would be the exception from the rule), but somehow the most effective team in recent years in terms of winning trophies managed to add another title to its’ ever growing cabinet.
Important transfers out: Beto (goalkeeper, key player), Sixto Peralta (central midfielder, key player)
Beto was in Portugal’s squad for Euro 2012 only as a backup, but he was the only player from Liga I present at the final tournament, and CFR couldn’t extend the loan from Porto for a second season. It’s a blow they’ve covered with another Portuguese goalie, but they’ve lost a player used to be part of a winning team with one that barely avoided relegation with FC Brasov.
Peralta’s another big name and, in spite of the criticism he got sometimes, I still consider him the midfielder with the best vision and intelligence that has been seen in Liga I in recent years. Slow and not too sharp from the physical point of view, the Argentinian was an asset for CFR, who tried to get rid of him – or at least his big salary – in the past too, but realized back then that it would have been a mistake. One that they’ve made now, probably, not just by releasing him, but by failing to add to the roster a central midfielder capable to organize the build-up by looking forward, not backwards or sideways.
12 goals scored in 13 matches in the second half of last season meant that Petrolul could avoid an immediate return to the second flight, but also that the 26 years old striker will enjoy some attention this summer. According to the former manager, Valeriu Rachita, the man that signed Younes back in March for 150.000 Euros – a sum that he didn’t even had to pay upfront – the Tunisian had a highest bid of 1,5 million Euros this summer, coming from a 1.Bundesliga club. Later, he revealed that it was Hannover 96 the team that wanted the player, but the yellow-blue outfit had already decided to keep him, offering a new and better deal, lasting until June 2015. A mistake, in my opinion, financially speaking, but a good move for the team’s ambitions, if we look at the way the season started for the Yellow Wolves, with a 5-0 win against Ceahlaul Piatra-Neamt.
Hamza was used upfront, alongside the young Romanian international Gicu Grozav – once at Standard Liege -, and the partnership worked like a charm. If Grozav scored once, offered two assists and was also involved in the move that lead to the last goal, the Tunisian striker scored an impressive hattrick, which gets his average above one goal per match in Liga I! He’s now got 15 in just a few months, while the all-time best foreign striker to have ever featured in Liga I, FC Vaslui’s Wesley, has 62 goals scored since September 2009. The Brazilian scored a brace as well in the first round and the most exciting strikers in Romania will meet next weekend, in a very attractive match scheduled on Saturday evening, in Vaslui.
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – Universitatea Cluj 6-2 (Ibeh 11, 23, Viera 15, Radut 66 pen., Matulevicius 76, Karim 85 / Patrascu 43, Pacurar 75)
- CS Severin – Dinamo Bucharest 1-2 (Vancea 52 / Axente 50, Danciulescu 80)
- Petrolul Ploiesti – Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt 5-0 (Hamza 12, 17, 74, Grozav 49, Szukala 85)
- CFR Cluj – Gaz Metan 1-1 (Kapetanos 60 / Vasilache 27)
- CSMS Iasi – Otelul Galati 1-2 (Cl. Ionescu 60 / Iorga 52 pen., Viglianti 80)
- Gloria Bistrita – Astra Ploiesti 1-2 (Predescu 32 / Fatai 6, 10)
- Rapid Bucharest – FC Vaslui 2-2 (Pancu 45, Teixeira 84 / Wesley 31, 48)
- Viitorul Constanta – FC Brasov 2-2 (V. Rusu 32, Cr. Cristea 74 / Buga 2, 48)
- Steaua Bucharest – Concordia Chiajna 1-0 (Rusescu 49)
Raised in Gheorghe Hagi’s Academy, the U19 international Cristian Gavra was called to Amsterdam to train for a week with Ajax. Another hot prospect from Viitorul Constanta, Bogdan Taru, went with him, but if the central defender returned to Romania, the promising striker was informed that he will stay for another week.
Born in 1993, Gavra was a key player in the U19 alongside Taru, in a generation praised for reaching the Elite Round in the qualifying campaign for the European Championship, but later accused for failing to get the tickets for the final tournament. He’s one of the 19 players from Hagi’s Academy who got called up to Romania’s different youth national teams since the beginning of 2012, but could become the first to “graduate” and make the step towards a very big club. Best of luck to him!
“Earthquake with world-class match fixers! A nightmare expects FC Vaslui when they’ll play Fenerbahce” – This is the title that created a huge scandal in Turkey, after the article written by Gazeta Sporturilor was presented by the Istanbul media outlets. I cannot know what the Turkish press wrote, but I can guess that they’ve speculated a title that is bombastic as usual and, again as usual, has little to do with the article itself.
I’ll go through the piece, with an accurate translation / presentation of each phrase:
“Rocked by a match fixing scandal in the previous season and with one title won in the last five seasons, Vaslui’s opponent compensates with the fantastic atmosphere on Sukru Sarioglu and the stars Kuyt, Topal and Alex.
Fener was excluded last season from the Champions League by UEFA, but now enters the competition as runners-up in the Turkish league. The coach Aykut Kocaman rotated the team’s stars this summer: the loans of Ziegler and Yobo ended, Emre went to Atletico Madrid and Dia plays now in Qatar, but in Istanbul arrived the likes of Mehmet Topal, Dirk Kuyt and Kaldirim.
The top veterans create a tsunami at home
The team’s spine is formed by players that are already established: the keeper Demirel, 55 caps for Turkey, the Brazilian captain Alex, the Senegalese Sow, brought from Lille for 8,8 mil. Euros, plus other three players with around 100 games for Fener each: Senturk, Topuz and Selcuk. Not to mention the Slovakian talent Stoch, who comes from Chelsea.
At home, Fener is like an unleashed beast, with just one defeat in the last 32 official games and can impose a terrible pace to the game: under Kocaman, there’s an average of 2,1 goals scored per match.
Statements from Marius Sumudica and Adrian Porumboiu follow, both praising Fenerbahce’s strength and support.
Below, a presentation of what follows if Vaslui manages to go through or if the Romanian side will be eliminated.
The article ends with some info on Fenerbahce, as follows: Kocaman is in charge since 2010, while Vaslui changed 3 coaches since then; the Kadikoy area from Istanbul has 700.000 people, 10 times more than the entire city of Vaslui; “The yellow and black hell” has been built in 1908 and improved in 1999; Fener won 18 titles, while Vaslui has spent only 7 years in the Romanian first division”.
As you can see, apart from the title – which might not even belong to the author – and an objective, based on facts, mention about the match fixing scandal, the article praises Fener’s strength and shows the big gap between the two teams that will meet in the Champions League’s preliminary rounds… Still, that title was enough for the Turkish media to blow everything out of proportion and if my Twitter feed has been “on fire” on this topic, you can imagine what happens on Turkish forums…
The Fenerbahce fans are very angry about this and, as usual, several scenarios have appeared. It goes from “it’s an article paid by Galatasaray’s board” to “I’ve heard that the editor of that website is the nephew of Gica Popescu, who played for Galatasaray”. Popescu, who is only in his early 40’s…
So this is what a stupid, bombastic title in Romania – who, by the way, has had for years a league where match fixing has been quite a common practice! – speculated by the Turkish media can do to Fener’s fans, who are talking about the un-finished trial, the effect on the stock exchange, the reactions of their rival fans and, of course, “a real crime”, without realizing that they are tricked – once again – by the press, who remains desperate to make everything it takes to gather more clicks and to sell more papers…
Position last season: 2nd place
The club that – in its’ short history – always managed to finish in a better position than in the previous year made one step closer to Adrian Porumboiu’s dream: winning the league. The wealthy former international referee will now be hoping that the season that just started won’t be the exception from the rule, as he made massive changes to the team and also made a surprising call, forcing the resignation of Augusto Inacio, the coach that had a short, but impressive tenure at the club. Last season, Vaslui boasted the most creative offensive trio in the league, Lucian Sanmartean – Wesley – Adailton, which compensated often for the big problems at the back, with the defenders tormented by injuries, the lack of a real scoring threat in the lone striker position and a lack of balance within the team.
Important transfers out: Paul Papp (central / right defender, key player), Adailton (forward, key player)
Vaslui agreed to part ways with Papp, who recently broke in the senior national team, Porumboiu showing that he’s learned from mistakes done in the past. The most notorious was blocking the transfer of Zoran Ljubinkovic a few years ago, after the midfielder had scored 16 goals in one season, and the following conflict with the Serbian player resulted in a one year ban in the transfer market for the club. So, the yellow-green outfit allowed a top defender to move to Chievo, but also lost easily to the same Serie A club the Slovakian centre-back Pavol Farkas, whom they’ve constantly under-rated, although he did very well in the first half of the season, when the back-line was heavily affected by injuries. Another important player who move away on a free transfer was the left midfielder Nemanja Milisavljevic, who covered the left back role as well, when needed, and now signed for Rapid, while there’s hope that the veteran Brazilian Adailton will return soon from his temporary retirement, as promised. He lost pace and stamina, but his ability to take set plays, as well as his invaluable experience, were assets that might be missed.
Position last season: 3rd place
Looking back at the club’s yet another tormented season, you could say it didn’t end too bad after all. As expected, Ilie Stan couldn’t finish the campaign and the very experienced and too humble Mihai Stoichita took charge towards the end, with the team showing glimpses of what could be done if everyone would mind his business. Last winter, some quality Romanian players were added to the roster, investments that could pay dividends this year, with the likes of Vlad Chiriches and Alexandru Chipciu already settled, but is it wise to predict that everything will go smoothly under the ownership of Gigi Becali – in spite of all the efforts of Mihai Stoica to protect the team?
Important transfers out: Geraldo Alves (central defender, key player)
I can’t understand how a player like Bruno Alves’ brother, experienced, solid & professional, can be released without a second thought. He played some excellent games in central defense & gave his best in other positions, when the team was in need, and – mark my words – he will be missed this season, when Steaua has decided to promote so obvious the pair Chiriches – Florin Gardos that simply forgot to take into account suspensions or, worse, long term injuries. Alongside Geraldo, the Bulgarian Valentin Iliev – who also provided good cover, making a couple of great matches along the way – was also released and Steaua signed an injured Doru Bratu, from Concordia Chiajna…
Position last season: 4th place
Under Razvan Lucescu, who went for a very experienced roster, thinking about the present, not the future, Rapid failed and I have to agree with the always discontent owner George Copos. The team was strong, very strong, last season, yet something happened along the way, when all the hunger and the flamboyant style slowly faded away and Rapid’s problems were exposed: lack of creativity in midfield, the absence of a goalscorer upfront and a general lack of determination among the top players. Rapid remains a very inconsistent team, strong at home, weak when playing away, and it will be interesting to see what will change under the command of former Rapid midfielder Ioan Ovidiu Sabau, who gets his first shot to fight for something important, after some good work for the likes of Gloria Bistrita and FCM Targu Mures. Used to coach small clubs and use very defensive setups, he will have to adapt quickly, to please the passionate fans who at least want to see some spectacular football, if they’re to lose the title, as usually happened in recent years…
Important transfers out: Dani Coman (goalkeeper, key player); Marcos Antonio (central defender, key player); Dan Alexa (defensive midfielder, key player); Ciprian Deac (winger, key player)