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.
- Sportul Studentesc – CFR Cluj
The newly promoted comes after a 3-0 defeat away at Gaz Metan Medias, but will have a difficult time bouncing back against the reigning champions. Even though CFR’s stars played poorly so far in the league and had the results they deserved, this is a good opportunity to put behind the 2-2 home draw against Astra Ploiesti. Sportul has the league’s worst defense, which isn’t at all surprising looking at the quality of the players available, their youth and lack of experience, starting from both keepers used so far and including pretty much all the defenders in the team. The fact that Sportul likes to attack without looking or holding back doesn’t help either and a lot of their games will produce goals at both ends, something that should be taken into account today, as CFR’s back four looked terrible since the start of the league and the trio Varga-Curelea-Balan boasts quality and desire to impress. The champions are favorites in my opinion, as they’re definitely tactically and physically stronger, especially in midfield, where Kivuvu is expected to start alongside Muresan, while Rafael Bastos showed nice playmaking abilities in his first game for CFR. There’s a dilemma wheather Traore will be fit enough to start, but Bud is in stand by, so there is quality backup for Bjelanovic, who will definitely miss through injury (expected to be out for almost two months!).
- Rapid Bucharest – Gloria Bistrita
This is the first difficult moment for Rapid and its coach, Marius Sumudica, who asked for the fans’ support, in order to help the players forget about the incredible 2-3 loss away against arch-rivals Dinamo, after leading 2-0 at half time. If we look back, we could think that Gloria’s visit comes at the right time, as Rapid won 10 of the last 11 meetings on their home ground, but Bistrita isn’t the same generous team from the past, at least not in the first half of the season ;-). The Vampires come after a first and impressive win of the season, 3-0 against Pandurii, with the goals scored by the club’s top players: Muresan, Predescu and Ribeiro Moraes, the Brazilian brought to Bistrita by Rapid’s coach, Sumudica! They’re at the same level as last season, looking well organized and solid, but I have some doubts about their defense, which should be tested to the max this evening. Rapid welcome back Roman on the right side, which should move Juliano Spadacio in the middle, alongside Lazar, so the front men, Sburlea and Herea (scored an impressive brace against Dinamo!) can count on quality balls provided both from the well-equipped flanks, as well as the middle of the pitch.
The other games: FCM Targu Mures – Dinamo, Astra – Universitatea Craiova, Pandurii – Gaz Metan, Universitatea Cluj – Otelul Galati, FC Vaslui – Steaua, FC Timisoara – Victoria Branesti, FC Brasov – Unirea Urziceni.
It’s getting close to the end and this is something I’ll probably do on a regular basis, in this blog’s second season: offering some info useful to those who are looking for winning bets.
- Pandurii – Politehnica Iasi - these two look like relegated teams already, but there is still some hope. Surprisingly, after losing two vital points against Gaz Metan, Politehnica Iasi managed to mess up the trip to Pandurii. The players will go there by bus, not by plane! We’re talking about a 600 km trip, which in Romania should take around 10 hours. And, with just three days between the rounds, at this stage of the season, it’s definitely going to affect the visiting team.
- Dinamo – FC Timisoara - the home team should be a bit more relaxed after Rapid’s draw away at Medias, they are pretty sure of their place in Europe next season. This should add to the huge defensive problems, where three regular starters will be missed: Molinero (right back), Moti (central defender) and Pulhac (left back). Grigore just returned after a long lay-off and will be probably paired with the average Scarlatache, while on the flanks Talnar will have to “invent” two full-backs. Be careful, though, as Dinamo never relied on its defense, so it could be better to expect only a game with goals at both ends…
Pick: DNB: FC Vaslui @ 1.74 (Gamebookers)
A regional derby, between two teams in need of points. Poli started the year pretty well, but underperformed last weekend, getting a very lucky away draw against Astra Ploiesti, while FC Vaslui will be looking to bounce back from the ugly defeat suffered at home against Gloria Bistrita. The pressure is on Vaslui and their coach, Marius Lacatus, who is expecting a vote of confidence from his players. Reasons for this pick:
- Vaslui has a superior roster. The first games in 2010 have been rather disappointing, but the amount of quality players available at FC Vaslui is impressive. Especially in attack, where Gerlem, Wesley, Costly or Burdujan are proven players, but have failed to click for some reason, so coach Lacatus could try and leave out one of two from the first eleven, to gain some balance and not have so many possible match winners looking for the killer punch all the time. Read more…
Pick: Both teams to score @ 1.90 (Gamebookers)
Hot Romanian derby, but between two teams who play unconvincing football at the moment. Dinamo is in a must win situation, while Steaua could settle for a draw. Which won’t be 0-0. I’ll explain why:
- Dinamo’s firepower. There’s an incredible competition upfront, between established strikers like Marius Niculae, Florin Bratu, Andrei Cristea and Claudiu Niculescu, plus the young guns Alexe, Torje and Zicu. All quality players, who can rely on the likes of the experienced Bostina and N’Doye in midfield, plus the talents of the inconsistent, yet very skilful Adrian Cristea. Dinamo scored twice away against CFR Cluj and at least once in every game played this year. Read more…
Favorite on paper, due to the massive difference in terms of points, value and aspirations, Rapid received only good news lately, regarding their first opponent in 2010. Besides their problems with unpaid debts (including the players’s wages for the past two-three months), the hosts are presenting a very long injury list, which should only increase the gap in terms of quality that separates these two teams.
Poli will miss the following key players: Branet (first choice goalkeeper), Munteanu (team captain, regular starter, either as a central defender or as a left back), Ilie (regular starter, central defender or central defensive midfielder), Ignatov (regular starter, Bulgarian central midfielder), Constantin (one of the main offensive threats, left winger) and Balba (rotation player, striker).
Rapid has not just a more valuable roster, but also far less injury problems, with doubts over the involvement of Sapunaru and Gauracs, but both are new players and the Bucharest side didn’t lose the regular starters from the first half of season. They’re well equipped all over the pitch, with several new choices in midfield and attack, where Cesinha and Iordache should make it hard for coach Nae Manea to choose the supporting players for the lone striker that would be Ionita, the centre-forward bought by FC Koln in exchange of 2,5 mil. EUR, but who’ll stay at Rapid until the end of the season.
The only problem is that the pitch conditions (which could be terrible – soft, muddy pitch) could seriously affect the players’ performance and even the game’s outcome, but as Poli didn’t train on the home ground to protect it as much as possible, in the end, this could be yet another unexpected bonus for Rapid.
The match will be player on Saturday, starting 18.00 CET.
- Cosmin Contra (34) confirmed the deal with FC Timisoara. The veteran full back has found an agreement with Getafe’s president and will be allowed to move to Timisoara as a free player. Contra will sign until the summer and is hoping to help the club win the league. Born in Timisoara, Contra has only played for half of season for the Viola outfit, collecting 14 appearances, back in 2005.
- Universitatea Craiova made a bold move and completed the buy of star forward Florin Costea (24), from CSM Ramnicu Valcea. Although Costea (who’s also regarded as a solution for the national team – and might find even more space, in case Mutu won’t find a miraculous solution and avoid suspension) plays for Craiova since 2006, 25% of his transfer rights were still belonging to the second division club. And Craiova decided to pay 500.000 EUR in exchange, a lot of money, even though Costea was reportedly a target for big clubs from abroad, ready to meet an asking price of 4-5 mil. EUR! Knowing the player and that 75% of the rumors published this winter were rubbish, my bet is that he won’t leave Craiova for a higher price than 1.5 mil. EUR, if he’ll ever make a move abroad at all!
- Unirea Alba Iulia signed Argentinian midfielder Enzo Bruno (22). The former Independiente player came as a free agent and signed a contract until the end of the season.
- The Argentinian young striker Danilo Ezequiel Carando (20) agreed to sign a contract with Astra Ploiesti until June 2012. The forward joins a list of players bought by Astra from South America this winter: Deigo Silva (22, striker, from River Plate, in Uruguay), Maximilian Arias (21, midfielder, from Fenix, in Uruguay), Gonzalo Salgueiro (23, goalkeeper, born in Uruguay, comes from Kalamata, Greece), Alejandro Kruchowski (27, full back, born in Argentina) and Marcelo Fabian Mendez Russo (28, central defender, from Montevideo Wanderers, in Uruguay). All the players have been recommended and assisted by Diego Solivaret.