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?
Wonderful performance from George Tucudean, who had started the season with 5 goals in 34 appearances in the top flight! The 21 years old striker took advantage of a very weak opponent and scored on Sunday evening four goals (and offered one assist, too!) in the 5-2 win against CSMS Iasi. He did all that in less than an hour, before being substituted with veteran striker Ionel Danciulescu, and in the second game started since another experienced fron man, Marius Niculae, had left the club and signed for FC Vaslui.
Now Tucudean – who had started the season in style, with a brace scored in the Romanian Supercup – will have to prove that his numbers were indeed affected by a competition that hasn’t always been fair in Dinamo’s attack, who desperately needed new blood. It will be a test of character and mental strength for the player that a few years ago was tested by Celtic to rise up to the occasion and take the chance to establish himself as a constintent performer at a good age. A test that won’t be easy, considering the fact that right after the game the youngster spoke without reservation of following the footsteps of his idol, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the friendly against Barcelona, scheduled on the 11th of August. A test he started worse than the season that could influence decisively his career…
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.
Steaua was lucky in tonight’s derby, because if Rusescu wouldn’t have invented a long range shot to cancel Marius Niculae’s 13th goal of the season (last January, with 13 goals in half of seson, Bogdan Stancu was moving to Galatasaray for 6 mil. E!) Ilie Stan’s men would have struggled to get back into the game. They usually have trouble scoring and Dinamo was surprisingly solid at the back this year, mainly due to the good form of Cosmin Moti, who was once an AS Roma target, and the addition of Srdjan Luchin at right back. But at 1-1, with Pablo Brandan and Alexandru “Gattuso” Bourceanu pressing hard in central midfield, Steaua managed to increase the distance between Dinamo’s line, leaving Danciulescu and Niculae isolated upfront.
Liviu Ciobotariu wasn’t inspired either, taking off Marius Alexe at half time and adding a striker on the left side proving suicidal for that flank, while Ilie Stan was going to be rewarded for understanding that Steaua needed a win, not a draw, and keeping an offensive setup until the very end.
It was a poor game, actually, as derbies often are in this country, Steaua failing to create a decent counter in almost half an hour, until Mihai Costea killed the match, but the result will definitely do the competition a lot of good. Dinamo has CFR and Rapid very close, with Steaua and Vaslui hoping to get back into the title race with a good run of results, so we could be in for a very interesting winter period as well. It’s been a while since we’ve had Dinamo, Rapid and Steaua in such good positions, but do not take anything for granted just yet – their owners/shareholders have the rare gift of screwing things up when they start to look good, reminding everybody that this is definitely not their “fault”…
After yet another poor year, the Capital clubs Dinamo, Steaua and Rapid have renewed their hopes of returning to greatness. Let’s take a look at three names that need to (finally) deliver, if the Bucharest big shots are to stand a chance against the always ambitious and recently better organized teams from the rest of country.
- Name: Marius Niculae
- Club: Dinamo Bucharest
- Position: striker
- Age: 30
The former Sporting Lisbon forward has failed to deliver since his return to Romania. He spent the second half of last season playing (and scoring) for Kavala – 4 goals in 12 appearances, in the Greek SuperLeague, but the club refused to make the deal permanent. Back in Bucharest, Niculae had to accept a wage cut and it will be interesting to see if he cares indeed for Dinamo or he’s just saying what the constantly decreasing number of fans love to hear.
With the best active scorer in Liga I by his side – Ionel Danciulescu, now 35 years old, scored a total of 193 goals in the Romanian top flight – and fueled by the most promising wingers in the country, Gabriel Torje and Marius Alexe, Niculae should deliver more goals than excuses in what promises to be another inconsistent season for the Red Dogs.
- Name: Cristian Tanase
- Club: Steaua Bucharest
- Position: attacking midfielder
- Age: 24
If Steaua wants to have a better season, a player like Tanase definitely needs to start looking like a genuine number 10. A right footed attacking midfielder who settled for a position on the left wing, the Romanian international has often drifted from inconsistent to simply useless, since his big, sorry, huge money move from FC Arges, three years ago. Numbers speak for themselves: one goal scored last season and a total of five in over 120 matches in Liga 1!
Predictable, lacking determination and the mentality (not the quality) to step up and act like the decisive player he was supposed to be, he fails to pose a threat with his shot, doesn’t get into scoring positions and simply cannot deliver quality balls in the last third.
With such a “discrete” no. 10, it’s no wonder Steaua struggled to fashion goalscoring chances and find the net even in the easiest of games. Now, under yet another coach, but involved in a playing style that should suit him even better, Tanase has the chance to prove a point. Otherwise this might just be his last season at the once great Bucharest club, although I get the feeling that the red and blue outfit has started to get used to the mediocrity of recent years…
- Name: Ciprian Deac
- Club: Rapid Bucharest
- Position: left winger
- Age: 25
One of Felix Magath’s flops, Deac comes after a poor season with Schalke 04, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if the chance to take showers alongside the likes of Raul and Huntelaar has convinced the Romanian international that he’s among the greatest players alive. Presented by Magath as a number 10 – still amazed by that statement! – Deac will certainly have enough chances to redeem himself in the one year long loan deal. Razvan Lucescu used to play him in the national team even when he was severely lacking match fitness, but the blonde winger certainly has a tough job ahead. Rapid parted ways with the likes of Cesinha and Juliano Spadacio, two of the best left footed players this league has seen in recent year, and will find it hard to accept another year without a serious title challenge.
Made his debut in Liga I when he was only 15, but already looked equipped to take on stronger opponents, thanks to his father, a former European Champion in judo, who took really good care of the young Niculae. The fact that Sensei Constantin was also a fitness coach with Dinamo also helped, but the young centre-forward soon repaid all the confidence with his constant development. Five years later, in the summer of 2001, he was on his way to Portugal, as Sporting Lisbon was impressed with the 20 years old who had finished the season as the league’s best scorer, with 20 goals. So impressed that they paid a total of 5.3 million Euros, a fee that included a 1.7 million Euros installment fee that should bring back some good memories to the Becali brothers and some of Dinamo’s shareholders…
Under the command of Laszlo Boloni, Niculae was surrounded by top players like Mario Jardel, Joao Pinto and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the fairytale ended a few months later when he suffered a nasty knee injury, which kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. The strong kid, who was ready to take on any opponent, never regained full fitness nor the bravery that had made him famous and – as a friend from the football world once told me – had raised his market value to 10 million Euros, an asking price available at that time for any interested club.
The centre-forward was going to leave Portugal on a free transfer, with a record of 14 goals in 59 appearances, and rejoin Boloni, with the coach willing to offer him a second chance, but unable to save a career that was going to register another two free transfers, to Mainz and Inverness, in the following years. A season high of eight goals in the Scottish top flight finally determined a club to pay something for the player’s services. It was his first club, Dinamo, who came up with half of million pounds and the same old plan. He was going to be the leader of the team, he was going to have all the support to score goals in double figures – Dinamo is an expert in “polishing” players for expensive exports – and he was supposed to help the club at least make some profit, if achieving sporting success is something that the red and white club fails to do for years. Unfortunately for him and Dinamo, the 12 goals scored in 2008/1009 were followed by one and a half seasons of mediocre football and a string of rumors that linked him to exotic destinations. One in particular looked interesting, but Boloni failed to convince Al Wahda to pay one million Euros for a front man who scored 7 goals in his last 36 matches, as part of probably the most offensive team from Liga I.
This winter found the player in a mess. With half of this season’s matches started on the bench and a wage that’s a problem for the club, Niculae is again ready to go. To China, on a free transfer, obviously, where Beijing Guoan are ready to pay 30.000 Euros/month until his next move. Which could be hanging up the boots, unless someone comes to his rescue. The Romanian press immediately thought of the same old Boloni, who just signed for Lens, but Niculae, now 29, is too old to be still living in the world of dream-moves and way too far from his best form to think that he could swap Liga I for Ligue 1. He should be more concerned about saving money rather than hopeful of saving his career…
- Universitatea Craiova received an approach from Hamburger SV for promising keeper Silviu Lung Jr. Apparently, the 1. Bundesliga club was hoping to land a deal in the region of 2 million Euros, but talks stopped after Adrian Mititelu expressed his desire to start negotiating a deal from 4 million Euros. The kid is good, but not that good. At least not yet…
- Although recent press reports spoke of Dinamo’s willingness to cut down the asking price for last season’s top scorer Andrei Cristea, it seems that the Bucharest side didn’t rush the player to the nearest airport when Newcastle United offered one and a half million Euros. A written offer is expected and, in the meantime, the press will try to decide which of these two Turkish clubs are interested in Marius Niculae: Bursaspor or Manisaspor. Niculae was simply too poor last season to determine a race for his signature this summer…