- Concordia Chiajna – Ceahlaul 2-1 (Ghionea 43, Purece 57 / Cazan 44)
- Gloria Bistrita – Petrolul Ploiesti 1-1 (Laio Azeredo dos Santos 82 / Cristescu 8)
- FC Severin – Otelul Galati 1-1 (Thomas 45 / Punosevac 20)
- Universitatea Cluj – Dinamo 1-2 (V. Dinu 8 pen / Danciulescu 23 pen, Curtean 62)
- FC Brasov – FC Vaslui 2-1 (I. Popa 11, Batin 74 / Varga 64)
- Astra Giurgiu – Gaz Metan Medias 4-0 (Di Stefano 51, Budescu 54, Tembo 61, Takayuki 87)
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – CFR Cluj 2-1 (Maxim 49 pen, Radut 81 pen / Bastos 52)
- Viitorul Constanta – CSMS Iasi 1-0 (Dica 42)
- Steaua – Rapid 1-0 (Bourceanu 90+5)
Both teams come after wins to nil away from home, but a way bigger challenge awaits in Europe, one that promises hefty rewards, but also threatens CFR’s and Steaua’s consistency in Liga 1, where both clubs are considered the main contenders for the title. If the Bucharest outfit started really well, the reigning champions have dropped points and also lost a number of good players and they’ll be heading into the most demanding part of the season with a tired, damaged team, hoping that the new signings will have enough quality to skip quickly over the period needed to adjust to a whole new environment. But, for now, both sets of fans will be thinking of Braga and Stuttgart and I’m sure that there’s also interest from Portugal and Germany, so here’s a quick look at the state of the two Romanian teams.
One word to describe it: inconsistent. The champions won on Friday away at Dinamo (1-0), but in spite of a solid start, struggled to keep the same pace and focus throughout and went close to conceding in the final minutes. Nothing new, really, look at the two halves from Basel and other league games when the defence fell asleep, with the entire team losing shape and balance. All this using pretty much the same starting eleven, due to the large number of injured players…
Basically, there’s unpredictability as far as the game is concerned, although coach Ioan Andone might try to surprise both Braga – the team’s first opponent from the Champions League’s group stage - and his team’s fans. Most likely, he will be gambling on either Sasa Bjelanovic (Kapetanos had some medical problems during the game vs Dinamo) or Luis Alberto, as only these two of the last additions are in good shape and have also been included on the list registered with UEFA. If Bjelanovic can only take the place of the Greek goalscorer, Luis Alberto will challenge Gabriel Muresan and Nicolas Godmeche for a place in front of the back four, with the Frenchman most likely to drop to the bench, in case Andone wants some fresh blood in midfield, where another substitution could see the talented but inconsistent Rui Pedro take the place of Diogo Valente, who’s yet to impress in CFR’s shirt.
A comfortable away win against newly promoted CSMS Iasi came at the right time, offering a boost of morale without asking for too much effort in exchange. Unfortunately for Laurentiu Reghecampf, who was in Germany to watch Stuttgart’s weekend game, left midfielder Cristian Tanase couldn’t finish the game due to some muscular problems. If the highly rated Romanian international can’t get to full fitness in time, there are two options to replace him: Paul Parvulescu, who also played at left back, can do the winger’s job, allowing Reghecampf to secure the flank, or Alex Chipciu can move on the left and do the exact same job as Tanase, given that he’s also a right footed wide midfielder who likes to cut inside – something he excelled at while playing for Brasov and also earned him the transfer to Steaua. In this case, Adrian Popa would take his place on the right side, adding a lot of pace and some decent skill, but no experience at all in such games. Either way, the Bucharest side, who managed this weekend to claim the first place in Liga 1 after two years, promises to test Stuttgart’s defense with a high paced attacking maneuver that this club had in its DNA, but no other coach had managed to activate it in recent years.
2-0 vs Estonia, 4-0 vs Andorra and Victor Piturca looks like a happy man. “I’d give my boys a 10!”, said the coach after the win from Tallin and, surprisingly, went further after tonight’s success, offering a 10+. It makes sense only if you think that, before the game, he was happy with a 1-0 win against Andorra (please don’t pay too much attention to the FIFA rankings!), but who saw the match and the struggle to open up a crowded defense would beg to differ.
Romania made only one change to the starting eleven used in Tallinn, with the injured Goian making space for Gaman in central defense, a sign that Piturca isn’t even thinking to work on a plan B. He’s totally focused on making his counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 system work that he’s not using games like this one to prepare an attacking setup for the inevitable moments when Romania will be one or two goals down…
Obviously, the team struggled to score against a very poor team: hazard played a good part in the first two goals, the third came after a set-play and involved an unlucky deflection from Andorra’s keeper, while the last was a brilliant piece of individual skill from Alexandru Maxim… on a counter. We’ve wasted tens of crosses and around 20 corner kicks, which only showed Marica’s problems to use hight balls coming from the flanks and the supporting trio formed by Tanase, Grozav and Torje provided a clumsy overall performance. Torje was lively on the right and scored again, with a nice left footed shot, but he works too much on his own (ignoring the supporting full-back), while his service is often useless. Grozav has some nice touches, but is too inconsistent and runs the wrong channels, while Tanase was very poor, looking very predictable in movement and uninspired when on the ball, getting a very hostile treatment from the angered fans. I could also write a couple of lines about Bourceanu and how limited is Steaua’s anchorman, but I don’t like to repeat myself :-)
Nevertheless, Piturca is happy and I’ll explain why: for him, it was vital to notch these wins against teams that would have played like Romania intends to play versus the group’s favorites. He was disappointed to hear that Estonia failed to cause problems for Turkey, but he’s secretly hoping that Turkey won’t take all the points in Tallinn. Where both Hungary and Holland might make a “faux pas” and he’s dreaming to frustrate all these higher rated teams when playing against them with a similar approach to Estonia’s, but with a touch more of technical quality and tactical knowledge…
Romania kicks-off another qualifying campaign and Victor Piturca won’t have to resign in case he misses out on the tickets to Brazil. His goal is to make it to Euro 2016 – that what his contract says, if you believe it or not – and already some of the players say that it’s not vital to take six points from the first two games, versus Estonia and Andorra. Makes sense, considering there’s no real pressure to finally reach a final tournament…
So, quite relaxed, Piturca should be looking to find the right setup, so he can take the best out of the current set of players and, as I think the current 4-2-3-1 isn’t delivering, I’ll share my thoughts on how I’d see the starting eleven and best tactical setup, using a selection that should have included goalkeeper Dani Coman and attacking midfielder Lucian Sanmartean, both from FC Vaslui.
In goal, I’d go for Pantilimon, who has been training with some of the best players and coaches and has the brightest future of all. Lobont lacks competitive games and the kind of size that will be required at least versus Estonia, while Tatarusanu is so inconsistent that he’s a rotation player even at club level.
The back four poses another problem: who deserves to pair Vlad Chiriches in central defense? Luchin played in the center for Dinamo last weekend and could be a solution, but I’d go for Astra’s captain Valerica Gaman. Would have preferred a quicker centre-back or at least one with a lot of experience and ability to sweep any activity that might happen behind Chiriches, who’s very comfortable on the ball and loves to show it. This way, Luchin can return at right back, as I don’t consider Matel back to his best (and not sure that his best is national team material either).
I’m sure Piturca will pair Steaua’s Bourceanu and Pintilii in front of the defense, in a 4-2-3-1, but I think Pintilii is a natural anchorman and, just like Bourceanu, is more effective when operating alone there. That’s how he earned his first call-ups, that’s how he got the chance to move to Steaua from Pandurii. And I’d prefer him instead of Bourceanu, who’s a hard working guy, aggressive and all, but more limited in terms of vision and timing, vital attributes at this level.
In front of the only anchorman, three dynamic attacking midfielders would push back Estonia and keep its’ defense and midfield very busy, with Tanase and Torje in their favorite positions and the in-form Alexandru Maxim deployed in the central attacking midfielder role that lacks solutions in Liga 1 at this point. He’s great on the ball, mobile, works well on tight spaces and should not miss from Romania’s starting eleven tonight. With an option for the number 10 position, I would have left on the bench Torje and started Maxim on the right side instead – he’s definitely playing better these days!
Upfront, I’d go for a pair of strikers. Definitely! Marica lacks the qualities to play alone upfront, he’s a second striker, useless when forced to play with the back at the goal and to challenge for high balls, sent from the defense or from the flanks. Niculae is this type of player, able to win balls, hold them up, create spaces and also finish and I’m sure Marica and Romania as a team would benefit from his presence on the pitch. It would finally make sense to develop the play on the flanks and go for the cross when opportunities appear…
Romania starts the campaign away in Estonia, a tricky opponent that would be followed by Andorra at home, and a six points tally is a must, before the qualifiers really get going, as Hungary, Turkey and Holland will stand in the way of a performance that’s been missing since 1998.
Victor Piturca – who always begs for a quiet atmosphere, friendly media and devoted, enthusiastic crowds – kicked it off with another debatable selection and a scandal involving FC Vaslui, a club that could & should have sent at least four players, instead of two. As much as he tries, Piturca won’t convince that Dani Coman and Lucian Sanmartean didn’t deserve to be in the team. We have three goalkeepers who are either out of form (Tatarusanu) or out of match fitness (Lobont & Pantilimon), while the argument that on the left side of midfield there’s Cristian Tanase and Sanmartean isn’t needed is a joke and puts the coach in a bad spot. Even if he was only backup, Sanmartean was a great solution on the bench or for the second match, not to mention that he would have offered Piturca the chance to even alter his tactical ideas to include two very good attacking midfielders in the same line-up…
To draw a parallel, it makes no sense calling-up both Bourceanu and Pintilii from Steaua. Bourceanu will start, so why have Pintilii as backup, especially after you’ve criticized him for playing below par since his transfer from Pandurii. But trying to find logic in Piturca’s choices is a waste of time, no wonder that’s exactly what Romania has done in recent years on the international stage.
I’ll end with the classical wish for luck. We’re definitely going to need a lot, if we’re to stand a chance in this campaign…
Here’s the complete squad for the double versus Estonia and Andorra:
Goalkeepers: Bogdan Lobont (AS Roma), Ciprian Tatarusanu (Steaua), Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City)
Defenders: Alexandru Matel (Astra), Valerica Gaman (Astra), Srdjan Luchin (Dinamo), Dragos Grigore (Dinamo), Dorin Goian (Spezia), Vlad Chiriches (Steaua), Razvan Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk), Adrian Salageanu (FC Vaslui)
Midfielders: Gabriel Torje (Granada), Adrian Popa (Steaua), Alexandru Bourceanu (Steaua), Costin Lazar (PAOK), Mihai Pintilii (Steaua), Claudiu Voiculet (Pandurii), Alexandru Maxim (Pandurii), Cristian Tanase (Steaua)
Forwards: Raul Rusescu (Steaua), Marius Niculae (FC Vaslui), Ciprian Marica (Schalke), Gheorghe Grozav (Petrolul)