The Romanian champions won 1-0 versus Slovan Liberec a week ago and has the freedom to choose a strategy for tonight’s second leg. A goal scored would probably discourage the Czechs, but it seems that Ioan Andone will try to play it safe, keeping things tight at the back and hoping for a lucky strike on a counter. With Ciprian Deac injured, an attacking winger will make room for a more defensive minded player on the left side, while Modou Sogou is expected to make a step back from the front line and leave there only Greek centre-forward Pantelis Kapetanos. With Sogou and Rafael Bastos (scored a brace during the weekend) in support of Kapetanos, CFR will need a lot of luck to surprise the hosts from open play, who should be very careful on set-plays, though.
Coming back with a draw and a goal scored in Istanbul looked like a win for FC Vaslui, but everyone’s cautious before tonight’s match. Last season’s runners-up lost 0-3 during the weekend on CFR’s ground and, although the scoreline was harsh, it should have affected the team’s morale. Hopefully, the effect will be positive and the players will start the second battle versus Fenerbahce with modesty and determination, willing to give it all just to come a step closer to the Champions League’s group stage.
Fenerbahce received 1.000 tickets in the 15.000 seats stadium from Piatra Neamt, where Vaslui has an incredible record in Europe: 6 wins and 5 draws in the 11 matches played there. The atmosphere should be hot, but nowhere near what happened a week ago, when the team responded in great fashion and Liviu Antal’s goal almost silenced the crowd. Tempted to go for a 0-0, Marius Sumudica, the coach, admitted that this could be a suicidal approach and I have to agree: the new back four needs more time to gel, the team lacks proper balance and Vaslui’s main strength was always the attack. With Antal on the right, the excellent Lucian Sanmartean on the left and Nicu Stanciu, probably the brightest talent in Liga I at the moment, behind an experienced striker like Marius Niculae, Vaslui can hurt any team, but would that be enough tonight, if the defense fails to keep it together?
As you probably know by now, Otelul Galati has won the Romanian championship. What you probably don’t know is who in Unirea Urziceni’s name is Otelul Galati. Prepare for a shorter walk than the 200 kilometers the club’s president promised to go on foot, back in November 2010, when all this was just a joke, as I will present you the club every Champions League participant will want to meet in autumn, in the group stage.
In the summer of 2009, Marius Stan, Otelul’s president, was offering a two years long deal to the most capped Romanian player in the national team’s history, Dorinel Munteanu. The man who represented his country 134 times had returned home, to Cologne, angered by accusations of match-fixing launched by former employers. Trying to clear his name in court was the right thing to do, but the wisest thing was to do it on the pitch. And, two years later, “Munti” was winning, against all odds, a league that had no less than six contenders at the beginning of the season, who tried everything to stop him. They came across a stubborn, determined, workaholic team, that multiplied by 11 Munteanu’s approach to the game he never cheated as a professional, and failed.
Meet “Galati Steelers”!
You might have heard of a certain Lakshmi Mittal. Yes, the wealthy owner of QPR, who will face the likes of Roman Abramovich in the Premier League, but, at the same time, might challenge the Russian’s club in the Champions League. And that thanks to Otelul Galati, the club that dreamed to become the Eastern Europe’s Chelsea, when the city’s immense steel factory was bought by the Indian’s company, but rarely received more than survival money, in Liga I.
It was disappointing for those at the club, but not for the old fox Marius Stan, who had made an attempt to become the city’s mayor in 2007, one that might have more success if repeated after this incredible performance. Just like most of his players, the president doesn’t lack tempting offers ;-)
This is the first title in the club’s history, which starts in 1964 and records the first promotion in the top flight in 1986! Two years later, Otelul was playing in the UEFA Cup against the mighty Juventus, recording a memorable 1-0 at home, before losing 0-5 in the second leg. “La Vecchia Signora” was counting on names like Stefano Tacconi, Alessandro Altobelli or Michael Laudrup, while Otelul’s midfield was built around a certain Marius Stan. With him at the helm, the red and white club from Galati was going to win the Intertoto Cup in 2007, a feat followed by a quick exit from the UEFA Cup.
Munteanu’s work and Otelul’s honest workers
In his first days as a coach, Munteanu tried to implement a 4-2-1-3 setup that was used on a large scale in the 1.Bundesliga, a formation he kept on tweaking in the creative – finishing department, after he moved away from CFR Cluj and gained more and more experience at Steaua, FC Arges and FC Vaslui, but constantly improved the functionality of the back four, in combination with the two defensive midfielders. His tactics and the strict approach found the perfect group of players in Galati, where a bunch of youngsters raised by Otelul in the third and second tier was completed by some bargain buys from second division clubs from both Romania and nearby countries. The president’s eye for talents and ability to sign them for some tens of thousands of Euros was going to pay dividends.
These players, desperate to make a name for themselves and move on, in search of better wages, added muscle and energy to an experienced back-bone formed by Sergiu Costin, Gabriel Giurgiu and Gabriel Paraschiv, who offered inspiration (you can find here Paraschiv’s incredible request to get a wage cut!) and ensured that Munteanu’s requests are fulfilled both during the very demanding training sessions and during the matches.
Rapa versus Messi, Neagu tackling Cesc, Ilie racing past Lahm?
There are no standout players in this team. Can’t find a lot of flair and the skill lost its importance with the 11 bees spending more time off than on the ball and this team could get slaughtered in the Champions League.
We thought the same in September, in November, Marius Stan was promising that he’ll walk from Galati to Slanic Moldova (that’s 200 kilometers, Forrest!), if his team wins the league, and we were sure in March that Otelul will drop from the top of the table so bad, that the team won’t even be able to secure a place in Europa League. The players were buzzing though and just managed to hang on, taking advantage of the fight between the other title contenders and some game-winning mistakes in their favor, committed by the refs. They were used to fight for survival and, this season, they did it. Just that they were defending the 1st place, not the 14th!
Who is Cornel Rapa? A 21 years old right back, who didn’t stay long in the U21, before moving into the senior national team. Ok, that’s not very hard, judging by the current level of Romania’s squad, but it’s still something that doesn’t happen too often.
Ionut Neagu has an interesting story too. He was playing for CSM Ramnicu Sarat in 2009, simply the worst team in the Romanian second division, when he was called back to Otelul during the winter break. Offered the chance to start in central midfield, he was going to lose that place only when injured or suspended.
Liviu Antal, Laurentiu Bus or Adrian Salagean are Marius Stan’s findings in the second tier, while Branko Grahovac and Milan Perendija are the winning bets placed by the same guy on the foreign market, somewhere he didn’t do very well, in the past.
All these guys, with no pedigree or experience, earning around 50.000 Euros per season – and still willing to accept wage cuts! – proved that serious, hard and professional work can pay off. Get ready to see some scared young faces on the biggest European stage in autumn, but try to accept that the Romanians who will fight for every ball and every inch, killing the show, are no longer gifted like Hagi, but determined and hard-working like Munteanu. Those ready to write them off should keep in mind though that Unirea Urziceni, who has now relegated to the second division and could even disappear as a club, collected a record tally of eight points, in a group formed by Rangers, Stuttgart and Seville…
- Gaz Metan Medias topping the standings is something even I wasn’t expecting, although I predicted a good season from this well organized team. The Brazilian Eric de Oliveira scored his 7th goal in 4 matches (a wonderful free kick) and left the field with 20 minutes to go, losing the chance to try and make it four consecutive braces in this outstanding start of season!
Another small team tipped to do well, Otelul Galati, added an important win against the newly promoted FCM Targu Mures, and Dorinel Munteanu’s keeper, Grahovac, is the only one in the league with four clean sheets. Impressive!
- Things are going very bad for Unirea Urziceni, though, who’s yet to score a goal this season, and worrying for CFR Cluj, held to a draw at home by a team that will struggle to avoid relegation this season. Good debut from the Brazilian Rafael Bastos, though, who could play an important part this season, as the missing playmaker. The problem is that Mandorlini keeps on looking for the best tactical setup & formation, which is unacceptable, in my opinion, after almost a year in charge. Read more…
MIHAI ROMAN– FC Brasov
- Gabriel Torje – Dinamo Bucharest
- Janos Szekely – Steaua Bucharest
- Antonio Semedo – Unirea Urziceni
- Liviu Antal – Otelul Galati
My view: Fair results, given the fact that, of all Romanian players on this position, Roman established himself as the first choice for the national team from Liga I, but it would have made sense to see this analysis including some stats regarding the players’ crossing ability. He’s the best when it comes to taking out his direct opponent and has the best shooting accuracy and these two criteria pretty much describe him as a player. Nice to see Antal grabbing the fifth spot, another second division player selected by the expert Marius Stan, a president with an excellent eye for promising footballers.
My choices: CFR’s first serious buy of the summer, Hora, was only in eighth place, in spite of a good season, but I would mention Gaz Metan’s Alexandru Muntean, as a nice prospect, and International’s experienced utility player Cosmin Bacila, who produced an impressive scoring rate in the second half of the season, which was definitely useful to the club’s survival in the league.
Note: the top five is taken from Gazeta Sporturilor, a newspaper that uses the service of Digital Soccer Project. These results are based on a series of specific criteria for each position, include only players that have collected at least 1.200 minutes on the pitch in the past season and the only subjective part of the analysis consists in the average marks received by the newspaper’s writers.
- International Curtea de Arges – Ceahlaul 2-0 (Apostu 15, 81)
- Astra Ploiesti – Otelul Galati 0-3 (Giurgiu 45, Costin 60, Antal 87)
- Unirea Alba Iulia – Dinamo 1-2 (Fl. Dan 28 / Andrei Cristea 45 pen, 69)
- Universitatea Craiova – CFR Cluj 2-3 (Piturca 12, M. Costea 21 / Traore 63, Bud 85, Cadu 90 pen)
- FC Timisoara – Gaz Metan Medias 0-2 (Eric 33, 83)
- FC Vaslui – Steaua 2-1 (Burdujan 68, Papp 82 / B. Stancu 45)
- Rapid – Pandurii Targu Jiu 1-0 (Sapunaru 86)
- Politehnica Iasi – FC Brasov 0-0
- Gloria Bistrita – Unirea Urziceni 0-0
Next round (15-17 of May): Gaz Metan Medias – Unirea Alba Iulia, CFR Cluj – International Curtea de Arges, Gloria Bistrita – Politehnica Iasi, Otelul Galati – FC Vaslui, Unirea Urziceni – Ceahlaul, Steaua – Universitatea Craiova, FC Brasov – Rapid, Pandurii – FC Timisoara, Dinamo – Astra Ploiesti.
Tomorrow, starting 14.00 (Bucharest time), Romania faces Italy, on Rapid’s stadium, in a match that counts for Group A of “International Challenge Trophy”, a competition dedicated to players born after 1st of January 1986.
Romania’s team was selected and will be guided by Razvan Lucescu, who failed miserably with the useless friendly against Israel, a week ago, but now has a chance to see on the pitch promising players who could be a solution for the senior team in the near future (in bold you can see who I believe to be fitting this profile).
Here is the full list:
Goalkeepers: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Steaua), Alexandru Pena (AS Roma – Primavera)
Defenders: Bogdan Straut (Poli Iasi), Sergiu Homei (Gloria Bistrita – on loan from Dinamo), Dragos Grigore (Dinamo), Cristian Sarghi (Otelul Galati), Razvan Patriche (Sportul Studentesc – second division), Alexandru Tudose (Steaua), Iasmin Latovlevici (Gloria Bistrita – on loan from FC Timisoara), Laszlo Sepsi (FC Timisoara)
Midfielders: Liviu Antal (Otelul Galati), Hristu Chiacu (FC Timisoara), Vasile Olariu (Victoria Branesti – second division), Mihai Radut (International Curtea de Arges), Mihai Onicas (Poli Iasi – on loan from Steaua), Andrei Ionescu (Poli Iasi – on loan from Steaua), Alexandru Curtean (FC Timisoara), Paul Parvulescu (Gaz Metan Medias)
Forwards: Alexandru Ionita (Rapid), Bogdan Stancu (Steaua), Alin Litu (Gaz Metan Medias), Marius Alexe (Dinamo).