FC Vaslui’s title hopes suffered a blow yesterday, when Adrian Porumboiu’s club dropped two points against Astra Ploiesti and lost contact with the first two teams, FC Timisoara and Otelul Galati.
Timisoara had no problems in putting three past Unirea Urziceni, while Otelul’s controversial win away at Victoria Branesti ignited a huge scandal, with the skipper Gabriel Paraschiv scoring from an offside position a late winner to grab all the points and stay on top of the league, with two rounds left to play.
Vaslui ends another season without a trophy and it’s a delicate moment for the club’s ambitious
owner sponsor, who had hopes as high as the wages paid to important players like the Brazilian pair Wesley – Adailton or Slovakian goalie, Dusan Kuciak.
Porumboiu and Timisoara’s owner, Marian Iancu, launched an attack not just towards Otelul’s experienced president, Marius Stan, but also towards “dark forces” they have failed to identify.
“They’re trying to show us that anyone but us could win this league”, stated the two, but this is a theory they too have to struggle to understand. The fact is that we’re close to a poor season, marked by the mediocrity of the title challengers and the numerous decisive mistakes made by the referees thoughout a year to forget that will be followed by yet another set of disappointments in Europe.
With two rounds to go, it’s going to be either Otelul Galati or FC Timisoara, as the two teams will meet ,on Sunday evening, on the leaders’ turf in what looks like the league’s Final. Unfortunately, before thinking of a potential match winner within the two teams, it’s wise to wait and hear the referees’ names. It might be there, among the officials…
With the big shots from Bucharest trying to book a place in Europa League, after yet another disappointing season, Otelul Galati, FC Timisoara and FC Vaslui have only three points between them, with three rounds left to play, in Liga I.
Otelul grabbed three vital points against Universitatea Craiova, on Thursday evening, taking full advantage of the draw between FC Vaslui and FC Timisoara, and regained the top spot, looking like the favorite not just because of it, but also thanks to the easiest schedule.
Next up for Dorinel Munteanu’s men is Victoria Branesti, an already relegated team, and a win will ensure a lead and the possibility of a draw in the following game, which could be a title decider, as Otelul will host FC Timisoara.
The Viola also have the title in the hands, even if they’re in second place now, three wins out of three being a guarantee for a title that will repay years of some important investments and also reward the always excellent support offered by a beautiful and passionate city like Timisoara.
For FC Vaslui, who badly needed a win against FC Timisoara on Wednesday, but Dorin Goga’s goal cancelled their lucky one goal advantage, have small chances to finish first, in spite of schedule that would allow them to get maximum points.
- Victoria Branesti – away
- FC Timisoara – at home
- Astra Ploiesti – away
FC Timisoara’s schedule:
- Unirea Urziceni – at home
- Otelul Galati – away
- Dinamo – at home
FC Vaslui’s schedule:
- Astra Ploiesti – away
- Sportul Studentesc – at home
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – away
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – Otelul Galati 0-3
The league started “in style”, with the first game decided off the pitch, as Pandurii failed to clear some older debt with Dinamo and was not scheduled for the first round. This was “the most clever way to fix a match”, according to Otelul’s title contenders, who had to work hard for the points last weekend…
- Rapid Bucuresti – Unirea Urziceni 1-0 (Sburlea 44)
Played on a frozen pitch, this could have gone wrong for the home side, but a key moment was poorly judged by the ref. In the first half, Rusescu was released behind Rapid’s defense and was fouled by the rushing Danut Coman just outside the pitch, but the ref thought otherwise. In front of a brand new Unirea team, Rapid managed to break the deadlock just before the break through Sburlea and defended the result easily in the second half. A valuable win given the conditions and the surprising quality of Unirea’s new roster, which might cause some trouble to the other teams this year…
- Sportul Studentesc – Dinamo Bucuresti 0-1 (C. Munteanu 36)
Usually a high scoring game, this looked like the perfect opportunity for Danciulescu to climb into the third spot in the all time best scorers list, but the veteran wasted several good chances. With Torje, Alexe and Ganea looking set to feature as regular starters, we can expect decent results from the team, especially in the summer, when the Red Dogs should be able to sell at least one or two of them for some hefty transfer fees.
- Poli Timisoara – Gaz Metan Medias 3-1 (Goga 55, Zicu 62, 79 / Dudita 49)
Disappointing in the first half, the game opposed two coaches who tried to surprise each other with the defensive setup. Pustai used the 2.03 m left back Zarko Markovic as an anchorman, to try and control Lukas Magera, while Dusan Uhrin Jr. responded with the centre-back Cisovsky as a box-to-box midfielder. Horrible decisions, no wonder the match took off only after the break, when Timisoara used its most creative players to kill the game.
- Universitatea Cluj – FC Brasov 1-1 (Delgado 54 pen / Ilyes 63 pen)
The home team has invested in some good players this winter, like Abrudan or Adrian Cristea, but they still need time to gel, and a well organized and hard working FC Brasov punished them easily, taking a vital point for their survival.
- Victoria Branesti – CFR Cluj 1-1 (Coman 21 / Muresan 71)
Still thinking and speaking about the title, the champions were in shock when Coman scored an excellent goal and had to work a lot for the draw, a result that should determine the team take a more humble approach in the future. This team is not looking good at all…
- Universitatea Craiova – Steaua Bucuresti 0-1 (Bilasco 31)
There was a good home crowd, in spite of a protest that asked the fans to boycot the match, as an attack to the club’s owner Adrian Mititelu, a sign that Craiova still has the backing of the fans, which will definitely help in the future home games. Steaua showed no significant improvement after the winter break, with the same obvious lack of creativity, while in Universitatea’s team shone another promising youngster, Marius Ologu, while the star, Florin Costea, wasted very big chances and his team’s chance to get at least one point.
- FCM Targu Mures – FC Vaslui 0-2 (Wesley 63, 86)
Not 100% fit, Wesley proved once again that he’s from a different class, proving decisive in the second half with two excellent goals. Unable to sign any new players until the summer, FC Vaslui can consider the Brazilian’s contract extension as the best winter deal they could have done.
- Astra Ploiesti – Gloria Bistrita 1-0 (Oprsal 69)
Chances at both ends, but Gloria lacks now Junior Moraes, the Brazilian sold for 1.2 million Euros to Metalurg Donetsk, which could do a lot of harm in the standings, this year. Astra could also do with a quality striker – their best scorer, Fatai, is out injured -, but this is one of the most hard working and disciplined team in the league, which should be enough to stay away from the danger zone and also earn some surprising results in the near future.
…and we’re off! We’re strating with a game decided even before it took place, but we’re off! It has been an interesting winter in Romania, with some important moves on the market. Steaua and CFR Cluj cashed-in big time on their most promising players, Bogdan Stancu and Lacina Traore, with another very good forward by Liga I standards, Ribeiro Moraes, leaving Gloria Bistrita and the country. Even though we haven’t seen any outstanding signings, this should be a very interesting second half of season, with the first division perfectly divided in two categories: title contenders (yes, CFR Cluj, currently in 8th place, still hope to win the league!) and relegation candidates. We have no mid-table teams, a category that should be defined during next month, when we’ll see who had either their hopes or fears killed in the first couple of matches.
Otelul kept all the players, which might look good and show ambition, but this was the perfect moment to profit from the rise of Cornel Rapa, the 21 years old right back who’s now an option for the senior national team. They might not get the best price in the summer, unless the excellent physical preparation and tactical discipline from the first half of season will deliver until the end. The league leaders have been discrete as always on the market, signing a second division player and a rather unknown Serbian centre-forward, Bratislav Paunosevac, who could make an impact considering that Otelul lacked options upfront last year. And also generate some profit from a future sale – a trademark buy for the experienced president, Marius Stan. Although they managed to get three points already, Dorinel Munteanu’s men are expected to struggle, with all the stronger clubs taking measures, which translates into extremely motivated opposition in every single game and some dodgy refereeing when it matters. Would be a real surprise to see them holding on until the end…
Undefeated in 18 matches, The Viola will start losing games, as Dusan Uhrin Jr., who returns as a coach, for the fans’ delight, has been asked to take a different approach – try to go for wins and push for a league title that’s in reach. As usual, Timisoara signed a lot of players, releasing the always over-rated Hristu Chiacu and loaning to Urziceni Ioan Mera, a centre-back that would have had little chances to feature, considering the competition. The experienced Sorin Ghionea was signed on a free transfer, with Nikola Ignijatevic coming from Red Star Belgrade to cover for Sepsi’s imminent departure. Tosaint Ricketts is expected to add pace upfront, something badly missed after Timisoara sold Gigel Bucur to Kuban Krasnodar more than a year ago. This is a solid team all over the pitch and a real title contender, although they miss the players and the coach who can cope with a level of pressure that will increase with every round.
Looking at the club’s activity on the market, you might get the wrong idea. The club released Burdujan (forward), Pancu (attacking midfielder), Hugo Luz (left back), Haisan (goalkeeper) and punished severely the Brazilian Gerlem (left midfielder), all of them useful players, who could have helped at least as reliable backup solutions, and couldn’t sign a single name, given the transfer ban that will expire only in June 2011. Still, the old dog Viorel Hizo should be satisfied both in terms of quantity and quality, while these departures could make those who stayed and are a bit more confident about their places in the team to act more responsible and focus on delivering what would be an outstanding and, given the recent investment, a deserved achievement for Porumboiu’s club.
In some games, they have played excellent football, looking very strong especially at home, where they simply lay siege on the visiting teams and eventually break them, with the support of one of the hottest crowds in the league. Unfortunately for them, the away form remains a problem at Rapid, no matter the quality of the team or the name of the coach, it has to be down to mentality. I was surprised to see that the club didn’t adress the squad’s biggest problem: adding another quality striker, as the Brazilian Cassio delivers only at home and the talented Sburlea’s too inconsistent and yet to turn into a poacher. They’ve released a few players – Cesinha could have turned some games around! – and signed three players that should add even more strength and quality in defense (the Bugarian international Vidanov) and midfield (the Brazilian Olberdam and the fans’ favorite player, Daniel Pancu). They’re very strong, but the 10 points gap demands from Rapid exactly what they’ve missed in the first half of season: consistency.
I’ve said it in the summer, when Nuno Claro was the Supercup hero: CFR needs to buy a reliable keeper. A certain Danut Coman was available on a free transfer back then, the sort of experienced goalie with a strong enough personality to step in and deliver for any Liga I club, yet the champions hoped that Stancioiu will not only keep the Portuguese goalie on his toes, but also do a good job when called upon. It should be no surprise to see that this strategy failed, with the two players simply too inconsistent to secure the goal and their mistakes have been so visible that the board has finally come to terms with this reality. Don’t think that they’ve taken the right calls, though! The capture of Mihai Minca – who, for the record, was Coman’s reserve last season – can be considered a decent signing, but also a bet. The 26 years old had a spell at Rapid a couple of years ago and failed to cope with the pressure, something that will be seriously tested in Cluj, where Minca, if he is to deliver in at least one of the next five years, should finally live up to the praise received in 2005 from a certain Walter Zenga…
Right now, he’s just a third keeper who can only hope that those still ahead of him in the pecking order, Nuno Claro and Stancioiu, will be either sold or released in the near future, in order to find some playing time. The imminent signing of a certain Remo Amadio (unknown 23 years old Italian keeper, who only played in the lower leagues!) on a free transfer certainly points in that direction. One that shouldn’t please CFR’s fans, though, given the questionable quality of the selected replacements, with a poor to nonexistent background and absolutely no guarantees that they’ll end up saving some shots in the coming months, not only the club’s transfer budget from January…
It’s that time of the year and Andrei Vochin, probably the only football journalist in Romania who writes and speaks just about football, starts providing the standings with the best players from Liga I, after the first half of season. And it’s no surprise to see up there, as the best keeper in Romania, Otelul’s Branko Grahovac, who managed to keep a clean sheet in half of the 18 games played so far. He is protecting the goal for the current league leaders and he was on the podium at the end of last season too, so the 27 years old, bought for 70.000 Euros exactly one year ago from Borac Cacak, has every right to feel good about this “award” and point the finger at the media that cannot stop praising the likes of Tatarusanu (Steaua – 6th place in the standings) and Pantilimon (Poli Timisoara – 11th!): “This is based on stats, not sympathies, so it means I’m better than those two. I agree, Tatarusanu is Steaua’s best player, but I cannot understand how can Pantilimon be the first choice for your national team!”.
Far from perfect (still prone to the odd incredible goal-causing error), Grahovac should thank not just Otelul’s defense, but the entire team, as Dorinel Munteanu asks the same involvement from every player in protecting the goal and getting the ball back. And wouldn’t look bad at all, if he’d show a little modesty, even if he came to Romania to make money, not friends.
Plesca (Gaz Metan – who did a great job covering the absence of Buchta, who was the best keeper in the league, last season!) and Kuciak (FC Vaslui) are just behind Grahovac in the Top 3, who shouldn’t feel too comfortable in this position if he looks to what happened with the keeper that was leading the standings last winter, Robinson Zapata, who spent on almost a year among Steaua’s reserves before leaving the country on a free transfer, not on a high horse…
Last weekend, we’ve reached the halfway mark in Liga I, but, with a schedule that makes absolutely no sense to me – two more rounds will be played before the winter break – it’s time to take a quick look back at the 17 rounds gone.
The title race
With Otelul Galati ahead of everyone else, you can imagine that things didn’t really go as planned for the usual title contenders. The Bucharest clubs failed to do better than in the past couple of years and they’re quite a long way back, with Steaua, the only Romanian club still involved in an European competition, sitting in 7th place! Reigning champions CFR Cluj are even in a worse position and, with so many clubs eager to do better in the second half, it’s hard to see them fighting for more than a place in Europe.
Although both made the same call as CFR and changed the coaches that had prepared and started this season, FC Timisoara and FC Vaslui have definitely been more inspired and successful. Timisoara remained the only undefeated club in the league, while Vaslui suffered only one defeat in the last 11 rounds (against Timisoara!), winning eight times thanks to the team’s offensive quality and a bigger dose of luck than the rest of the pack.
Basically, Otelul‘s excellent run and Gaz Metan‘s fifth place repay the clubs that had a long term project, were satisfied with a slow, but steady growth in recent years and faith in their coaches, even when things weren’t looking bright, showing that it’s not all about the money spent on an over-priced Romanian market, the foreign players offered for free and the buys from abroad based on highlights presented on DVD, usually by the respective players’ agents!
The relegation battle
The reunited “mad bunch” from Sportul Studentesc failed to deliver more than a few entertaining matches and the bottom placed club wil probably go down mainly because the owner is satisfied to see good individual performances from the players he is hoping to sell. Unlike the rest of the struggling teams, Sportul’s players will never be desperate to get a result, an attitude easy to find in clubs like Victoria Branesti or FCM Targu Mures.
If Victoria keep faith in the young coach that won promotion last year, Ilie Stan, who doesn’t look at all out of his depth in Liga I!, Targu Mures and Pandurii are in good hands, after a poor start. In fact, Targu Mures could struggle to start 2011 with Ioan Ovidiu Sabau still in charge, as he’s considered one of the best choices by CFR’s board, as the champions are looking for the right guy to take over the team, during the winter break.
As expected, FC Brasov and Unirea Urziceni, who had suffered massive losses in terms of quality players, are down there, but they’ll put up a fight until the very end, even if top players like Chipciu (Brasov) or Maftei (Unirea) are likely to leave, as well.
What to expect
As you can see, we have no mid-table clubs, with CFR secretly dreaming of a spectacular come-back in the title race and Universitatea Craiova, who, right after Piturca’s appointment, dared even to speak of the title!, only three points away from the danger zone. With everyone still very much in it, it’s impossible to predict what is going to happen in 2011, but here’s what I think it’s pretty vital to change and what’s important to stay the same at the clubs fighting to win the league.
- Do: sell the players in demand! Rapa’s market price has rocketed and will only go down from there. The title isn’t a realistic goal for Otelul and a place in Europe could be achieved without one or two of the current regular starters. Plus, Marius Stan can buy a whole new team with a million Euros!
- Don’t: dare to think of the title. The other clubs have the money and means to make sure this won’t happen!
- Do: make a call regarding the coach, as Contra should either hang up his boots and focus on the new job or leave it to someone else. It’s been going well until now, but enthusiasm and good fortune don’t last forever.
- Don’t: keep on buying from Dinamo! It has become a
suspectstrange habit in recent years…
- Do: get back the injured defenders or buy new ones – it’s vital to find some balance within the team
- Don’t: keep on playing Wesley as a central midfielder and keep on using Burdujan
as a winger.
- Do: decide if you want the title or not; offer Lazar and Bozovic new deals; buy a new striker
- Don’t: act like amateurs; allow Rui Duarte or anyone else to skip training and leave the country without severe punishment; act like amateurs!
Gaz Metan Medias
- Do: offer the excellent coach Cristi Pustai a new deal; buy another striker; go for the chance to play in Europe next season
- Don’t: further unsettle Eric de Oliveira, you’re going to lose him anyway!
- Do: sell Torje, Adrian Cristea, Alexe – they’ll bring a lot of cash; get rid of Niculae, N’Doye, Scarlatache, Bordeanu, Moti – they’ll save you a lot of money and spare further embarassment; respect Danciulescu.
- Don’t: keep on using the old methods! You’re doing serious damage to this league and will continue to play in front of just a few hundred fans!
- Do: try and keep as many of the current players
- Don’t: act upon Becali’s mood and “knowledge”; lose the fans once again
- Do: sell all those that have spent too much time in Cluj and consider themselves more than just players; decide the club’s strategy before choosing the coach
- Don’t: think about the chance to win the league