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CFR Cluj went by plane to Milano, with the clear intention to park the bus…

February 13, 2013 Leave a comment

4 and a half years ago, the Romanian champions stunned the world with a 2-1 win on the Olimpico, against AS Roma, in the Champions League. This season, CFR Cluj collected a record (by Romanian standards) 10 points in a group won by Manchester United, but failed to go through. Relegated to the Europa League, the team will meet Inter Milano and will have to produce something special on Thursday evening. A win, like 4 and a half years ago, seems highly unlikely though, with a draw or a narrow defeat looking like the results Paulo Sergio has prepared for in the last month.

Hard to replace. Bastos (left) and Sougou (right) are gone, while Kapetanos (centre) has slim chances to start vs Inter...

Hard to replace. Bastos (left) and Sougou (right) are gone, while Kapetanos (centre) has slim chances to start vs Inter…

From the starting eleven that won against Roma only team captain Ricardo Cadu and defensive midfielder Gabriel Muresan will probably feature among the starters and the Portuguese coach worked on much more than just finding the right replacements for Modou Sougou and Rafael Bastos, the top players sold in January to Olympique Marseille and Al-Nasr, respectively. There’s been intensive work in switching to a defense of five men, with Felice Piccolo operating behind Cadu and Rada, who will be also protected from the front by a hard working, defensive midfield duo formed by Muresan and Nicolas Godmeche. Attacking threats? Maybe Rui Pedro, the 24 years old who scored a hat-trick against Braga playing off the main striker, but now he’ll be the most advanced player on the pitch, a role he’ll probably struggle to cover…

So, five defenders, two defensive midfielders and no natural striker – this is CFR’s plan to return from Milano with a decent result, one that drew criticism even from the team’s former coach, Sorin Cartu, nicknamed “Sorinaccio” for his love of ultra-defensive approaches… At least on paper, Paulo Sergio seems to have gone a step to far or too deep, to be more accurate, as the team that had the worst passing completion (52%) and ball possession (35%) in the Champions League’s group stage and has lost the two players that did some damage on counters faces Inter with the back against the wall. A wall that’s called Mario Felgueiras, the 26 years old that saved 61 shots against Man United, Galatasaray and Sporting Braga, the highest number recorded in the Champions League so far

Can Steaua leave their off-the-field problems and get back to playing football?

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

It was all perfect back in 2012! Steaua dominated the league, a reminder of the good old days, and qualified for another European spring, having the arrogance guts to take Ajax lightly and speak of the possible double with Chelsea in the Europa League. As January passed by without anything spectacular happening, other than the usual game of asking unrealistic prices for players like Chiriches, Tanase or Rusescu, things got hotter as the Amsterdam trip came into sight.

regheA huge betting scandal involving Laurentiu Reghecampf kept the media busy, as the young coach was placed at the heart of a possible fixed game that took place in the 1.Bundesliga, when he was playing for Energie Cottbus. It proved big enough to make the Bucharest side react “in style”, shutting down all access during the team’s second training camp.

As things weren’t bad enough, Steaua’s owner scored a hat-trick of legal issues in the past few days, as his name featured in three cases and at least one of them did some damage, as Becali received a 3-year sentence with conditional suspension of execution for trying to make justice for himself by forcefully retaining the people that had tried to steal his car.

All these issues seriously damaged Steaua’s image and it might have also affected the team’s morale and focus ahead of the first official match of the year. If they also diverted the attention from the on-the-pitch problems that Reghecampf had to address during this long winter break, the fans optimistic of having a strong chance to go through might have a few surprises on Thursday.

Steaua has defensive problems: at right back there’s a dilemma whether to use new signing Cornel Rapa from the off or still improvise with Alex Chipciu, the quick winger that had to cover the role a few times in the past; Lukasz Szukala, who would have probably started in central defense suffered, a broken nose during a friendly game and he’s out, so the central pair will be formed by Vlad Chiriches and Florin Gardos. Both are young and, judging by the recent unconvincing performances of the highly rated Chiriches, inconsistent. Should I also mention the indifferent form of starting goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu? Or move upfield and remind of the absence of Cristian Tanase – suspended – which has created little debate, but the right footed left midfielder will surely be missed.

Steaua still thinking of a double with Chelsea? At the moment, it seems more likely to happen in autumn, in the Champions League…

CFR Cluj and Steaua, ready to start their group stage adventures in Europe

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Ioan Andone will be coaching for the first time in the CL group stage.

CFR Cluj

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.

Steaua

The talented Chiriches and Tanase will give it all to impress in Europe.

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.

FC Vaslui gave a scare to migthy Inter Milano, in a game the Romanians never expected or deserved to win!

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Sumudica, celebrating the win versus Steaua, in Liga I. A coach with a vision as limited as his education.

Having to go through the preliminary rounds of both European competitions, most Romanian clubs face between two and four games before making a shameful exit. An entire campaign, they fight like crazy, bending rules and doing everything possible to finish as high as possible in the standings, but when they start playing in Europe, the following season they start complaining about the games that come every three days…

FC Vaslui is yet to win a league title, but is a club that managed to finish every season in a higher position than in the previous one. The lack of European exposure obviously affected their chances to avoid big names this autumn and, after Fenerbahce in the Champions League, things got worse in the Europa League. Inter came to Piatra Neamt and won 2-0 the first leg, a match that Marius Sumudica, Vaslui’s coach wanted to approach using the reserves. An idea that came back to life before last night’s second encounter and Sumudica rested even the excellent goalkeeper, Dani Coman, alongside a number of regular starters, handing debuts to several players against a team lead by the incredible Javier Zanetti, packed with stars, in spite of a 2 goal advantage from the first leg.

Vaslui lead 1-0 and 2-1, playing almost an hour with a one man advantage, but failed to deliver the biggest surprise of the play-off. The game ended with a draw that punished what I consider lack of respect towards the competition and the opposition, but, above all, an amateurish approach that I’ve initially linked with Sumudica. Listening to the team’s manager Daniel Stanciu and the club owner Adrian Porumboiu afterwards, I realized that the coach had their backing to field a weak team against Inter and give up the fight before it began. And all that because three days from now, the title contender FC Vaslui will play away versus newly promoted club, Viitorul Constanta… Pathetic!

 

Steaua, forced to improvise for the first clash with Twente

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

According to the Romanian media, Ilie Stan has one dilemma ahead of tonight’s game: who should play at right back? The first eleven looks something like this: Tatarusanu – Dananae or Martinovic, Chiriches, Geraldo, Brandan – Rusescu, Prepelita, Bicfalvi, Tanase – Tatu, Nikolic.

This spells big problems in defense and midfield! Steaua’s transfer activity, in spite of some good buys, like Chiriches or Chipciu, has proved once again the lack of someone with brains, influent enough to explain the owner on what (type of) players he should be spending his money.

Ilie Stan needed more time and better planning to stand a chance versus Twente.

Ahead of the first and most important match of the year, the coach realizes that Dananae, THE right back, isn’t fit and offers no guarantees right away, so the ONLY other option is to keep playing Martinovic, the guy he wanted to replace due to his obvious limits (especially when going forward).  Chiriches and Geraldo will be playing their first official game together in the center, but they are intelligent and good enough to do well, while on the left side there’s a chance to see Brandan? Brandan, the natural left sided player, but who has been Steaua’s best central midfielder in the first part of the season? Nice!

And we move forward, in midfield, where on the right side, either it’s going to be Rusescu or Tatu (more likely), it means Steaua keeps on playing without a natural right midfielder and improvises with a forward. After a two-months long break, nothing has changed… A look in the middle? There is no Bourceanu (suspended), while Brandan should play at left back, so the pair that has done so well last year, the one that kept this team balanced, is now gone. The Prepelita-Bicfalvi pair will work hard defensively, but will eventually drop too deep, so all the threat Steaua will be able to pose tonight should come from the left flank – something Twente is definitely prepared to deal with.

Terrible planning by Steaua, really! I always thought that the winter break in Romania is too long, but looking at how the clubs work in this period, it looks now like it’s not long enough…

Steaua makes it through, but FC Vaslui finally has to give in

December 14, 2011 1 comment

It’s a shame to see FC Vaslui out of the Europa League, really! They’ve done incredibly well in a very tough group, with the likes of Lazio and Sporting Lisbon and were in a good position before the last round of games in spite of the numerous problems that Viorel Hizo had to deal with this autumn. He never had something at least close to what you’d call an ideal first eleven, playing with an improvised back four and losing for the last three games one of his best players, but he still managed to go to Zurich for the last game without having to depend on what was happening on the “Olimpico”. Of course, if everything was going to be fine in Switzerland…

It wasn’t. Cerniauskas, the goalkeeper, had to leave the field injured in the first half. The outstanding Sanmartean resisted just until after the break, in a game Hizo had in the stands three regular starters suspended: Temwanjera, Papp and Wesley. It was simply too much for a team that has a transfer ban for almost a year and a small and very unfortunate squad. They’ve lost 2-0, but I think everyone should be proud of the club’s first ever European presence and hopefully the sometimes impulsive owner, Adrian Porumboiu, will have a good look at the big picture. It definitely doesn’t make you turns your eyes away!

Surprisingly, Steaua did a lot better, in spite of a more delicate position, as the Bucharest side was also depending on a good result managed by the already qualified Schalke in Israel, not just on the win against AEK Larnaca. In front of 50.000 fans, who are starting to forget that their boycott was provoked by a club owner who’s still there and getting behind the team once again. The fans’ defeat meant the team’s victory though and it was a vital one, as the Germans played their part, inspired by Ciprian Marica who scored his first goal of the season for Schalke!

Stefan Nikolic (left) turned from villain to hero. Not sure Gigi Becali still wants to get rid of him, like he was saying less than a month ago...

After a nervous first half, Rusescu kept his cool and converted a penalty, but AEK struck back and things were looking bad for Steaua. Pablo Brandan’s quality and experience kept the team balanced though and Ilie Stan got all his subs right, although at least one of them came a bit late. A corner and a perfect counter were converted by Stefan Nikolic, the 22 years old striker loaned from Poli Timisoara netting a brace and sending Steaua in the European spring for the 9th time in the club’s history.

I wouldn’t say they were the better team, but there’s something about this club that often comes to the rescue and offers them that little plus that makes the difference between the Romanian sparring-partners and the Romanian clubs that every once in a while make it in Europe…

If offense provides the best defense, it should make sense playing a striker at the back

December 4, 2011 1 comment

Two foreign, well-paid centre forwards, Mike Temwanjera and Yero Bello, the once promising Razvan Neagu in stand-by, all supported by the best offensive trio in Liga I: Lucian Sanmartean-Wesley-Adailton. This was Vaslui’s impressive striking force expected to help the club respect what’s become a tradition: achieve a better place than in the previous season, with only two options left this term: 1st or 2nd place.

Ionut Balaur (right), celebrating alongside the Brazilian pair Wesley - Adailton.

With 0 matches and, obviously, 0 goals in the top flight, Ionut Balaur, already 21 before the start of the current campaign, had the same chances to play and score. A paradox: lacking the numbers, he was there just for the numbers, yet the first occasion to make his debut at this level came sooner than everyone expected. He was going to play with the back at the goal, but not as the centre-forward he thought he was, but trying to cover for the numerous absences from central defense. The former Sporting and Juventus Brazilian, Gladstone, Paul Papp, the young international, Gabriel Canu – the skipper, all suffered long term injuries and the old dog Viorel Hizo was in a very difficult position, with games in the Europa League group stage waiting to give him nightmares in midweek as a bonus for the weekend head-aches. Hizo refused to look for a Mascherano though, was lacking a regular left-back anyway and couldn’t pick someone from the flanks, so he took a chance on the inexperienced big guy that was dreaming to score for Vaslui, not keep others like him from scoring.

He played in the league, but also in Europe, where Hizo’s men ar still in with a big chance to go through, with one game to go and, hopefully, to win. In some of the matches, this guy was all over the place. And I mean that in a good way. Enthusiastic, hard working, very effective in the air, decent on the ball. Losing his man at times, but never his head, as you’d have expected from a player with no experience against the likes of CS Mioveni or Concordia Chiajna, but who had to contain a certain Djibril Cisse on the “Olimpico”…

This guy made his debut in Liga I on the 13th of August and five days later he was starting against Sparta Prague, in the first and decisive leg of the double that allowed Vaslui to reach the Europa League group stage for the first time in the club’s 10 years existence. Two rounds ago, he was scoring the winner in the home game versus Pandurii Targu Jiu, while still playing in central defense. Unfortunately for him, all this won’t make a hell of a difference. Paul Papp and Gladstone are finally back from injury, the team’s striking options remain rich enough, so life should get back to normal for the young centre-forward&back, a role destined only for those who are willing to give it all when time comes, even though the only reward that awaits is a regular place on the bench…

P.S. For the record, Vaslui’s official website doesn’t even include Ionut Balaur in the first team’s page…

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