Liga I resumes today, after another long break, but earlier than it was decided, in typical Romanian fashion. Another week might have helped some coaches that changed sides and might have allowed some new faces blend in better, although nothing really prepares you for the realities of our football…
A look at the standings shows there’s little movement to expect upfront, where Steaua feels little to no threat from a chasing pack that’s missing two traditional rivals, Dinamo and Rapid, both paying now (and in the next few years) for the poor management that has now come not only to affect their results, but even to threaten their survival.
5. CFR Cluj
A new record of points for Romanian football in the Champions League’s group stage created the perfect opportunity to cash in on some shrewd investments in foreign players. It was not nice to see CFR give up the fight with Inter in the Europa League and with Steaua in Liga I, but it was realistic and in perfect agreement with the club’s long term business plan, the same that made the Cluj side such an important name in Romanian football, in the last decade.
Rafael Bastos and Modou Sougou left for important transfer fees and the board was not desperate to spend, gambling again on unknown names from abroad, with Robert Maah looking so far good enough to step in and command a place in Paulo Sergio’s first eleven. The Portuguese coach was criticized for the number of defenders used against Inter, but I liked that he worked on a plan, adjusted to the type of players available and his ability will be put to the test until the end of the season, when a place in Europe is a must. Either through the league or the Romanian Cup.
4. Pandurii Tg Jiu
Probably the most entertaining team of the autumn season suffered two big losses: the top coach that’s Petre Grigoras (signed for Otelul Galati) and a top talent like Alexandru Maxim (transferred to VfB Stuttgart).
Ok, we are talking about a club free of financial trouble, who signed a good coach like Cristi Pustai, but I think Pandurii will settle for a European spot, if they can resist the temptation to give up easy points to some clubs in need… Two good moves on the market, with the midfield pair Anton-Predescu moving for almost nothing from the cash-strapped Gloria Bistrita.
3. FC Vaslui
Once aggressive on the market and very ambitious in the league, the club that always managed to finish on a higher position than in the previous year won’t be able to respect the tradition. Vaslui made no significant move in terms of transfers and decided to part ways with top goalie Daniel Coman, probably in an attempt to cut down the wage bill, losing at the same time a leader and a consistent performer. Not the kind of move a title contender does, but it seems that Adrian Porumboiu wasn’t bluffing again, when he stated he’ll try to distance himself from the club…
2. Astra Giurgiu
A wealthy, ambitious, and obviously controversial owner like Ioan Niculae has decided to give it a go this season, taking advantage of the poor season of the usual contenders for the European spots. All the good players stayed and the team is still ran by the caretaker and long serving coach Valentin Sinescu, but he should worry now that with the matches the dangerous TV sports shows will also resume.
10 points behind Steaua, Astra will probably be more concerned looking over the shoulder, as CFR and Vaslui still look stronger, at least on paper, and would definitely enjoy finishing second.
FC Vaslui gave a scare to migthy Inter Milano, in a game the Romanians never expected or deserved to win!
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!
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.
“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.
With Gazzetta dello Sport reporting this morning that Pavol Farkas, a 27 years old Slovakian centre-back from FC Vaslui, was passing a medical in Verona and was about to sign for Chievo as a free agent, more interesting news than an under-rated player from Liga I moving for zero Euros to a Serie A club arrived in the afternoon.
Paul Papp, the young Romanian international who started at right-back for the national team in the recent friendly win versus Switzerland, will also play for Chievo next season. With the transfer details still kept secret, this definitely looks like a wise move by the “gialloblu”, who add a quality defender to their roster and have a very good chance to make a nice profit within the next two years.
23 years old in November, Papp recently broke into the national team, collecting 8 caps, and has featured in 74 Liga I matches, scoring 6 goals. He also played 2 games in the Champions League preliminary rounds and 4 other matches in the Europa League group stage.
Strong and athletic, good both in the air and on the ground and gifted with enough technique to be considered a decent solution at right back at NT level, Papp is a central defender that has all the qualities to impress in Italy. It would be best if he could play regularly in the middle, although the Italians do like to use strong players on wide positions, but either way the player’s chances to keep on featuring on a regular basis for Romania’s NT will receive a significant boost. And, in the end, this could only pay back Chievo, who took advantage of Lazio’s indecision and moved at the right time to get a defender with a lot of potential, who could make another step forward in the near future.
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!
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…
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.
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…
The Brazilian ace needed just one goal to break the record established by the Albanese former international Sulejman Demollari, who had scored 36 goals in 100 matches played for Dinamo Bucharest between 1991 and 1995. Wesley scored a hattrick instead, in the 5-0 away win at CS Mioveni, doing all this in style, something he never lacked since his arrival in Romania two and a half years ago.
With 1,5 million Euros paid to Leixoes, FC Vaslui was making this one of the signings that were going to confirm the club’s intentions to keep on improving, aiming for matches in Europe, as well as internal trophies. So far, they only managed to break into the Europa League group stage, stunning Lazio on “Olimpico” with a 2-2 draw in which Wesley himself got both goals. But Vaslui, who every year managed to finish in a better position than in the previous season, look now only two steps away from the league title, after a 3rd spot well deserved in the previous campaign.
With Wesley flanked by Lucian Sanmartean and Adailton, behind a powerful lone striker like Mike Temwanjera, Vaslui certainly boasts the most powerful attack in Liga I and these guys have made up so far for an incredible amount of injuries that has affected the team’s defense. Games versus Lazio or Sparta Prague have shown that they can afford playing a 21 years old striker like Ionut Balaur at centre-back, yet avoid defeats, and the mentioned players also deserve praise for their approach and willingness to track back and give a hand in defense.
Wesley himself, as the team’s skipper, has been an example, but he certainly is of more help this season playing as a central attacking midfielder, after almost an entire year spent as a central midfielder with playmaking duties performed from deep, in a 4-2-3-1, a role that hasn’t kept him from netting an impressive 14 goals.
Still, it was a mistake the experienced coach Viorel Hizo found the strength to acknowledge and the Brazilian has now 7 goals in 9 Liga I matches, using to full service his exceptional eye for a goal, composure in front of the keeper, precise heading ability and simply amazing knowledge of attacking an empty space inside the box at just the right time.
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.