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.
Position last season: 1st place
CFR was one of the least impressive champions in recent years and I would rate the team below the likes of Unirea Urziceni and Otelul Galati, considered huge surprises when they won the league, although they did possess two vital attributes: physical preparation and tactical discipline.
Brought to avoid what looked like a probable poor end of the season, Ioan Andone didn’t manage to take more out of the team than his predecessor, Jorge Costa, the former fierce FC Porto defender. The squad looked old, slow, predictable, lacked style and impressive performers (Greek striker Pantelis Kapetanos would be the exception from the rule), but somehow the most effective team in recent years in terms of winning trophies managed to add another title to its’ ever growing cabinet.
Important transfers out: Beto (goalkeeper, key player), Sixto Peralta (central midfielder, key player)
Beto was in Portugal’s squad for Euro 2012 only as a backup, but he was the only player from Liga I present at the final tournament, and CFR couldn’t extend the loan from Porto for a second season. It’s a blow they’ve covered with another Portuguese goalie, but they’ve lost a player used to be part of a winning team with one that barely avoided relegation with FC Brasov.
Peralta’s another big name and, in spite of the criticism he got sometimes, I still consider him the midfielder with the best vision and intelligence that has been seen in Liga I in recent years. Slow and not too sharp from the physical point of view, the Argentinian was an asset for CFR, who tried to get rid of him – or at least his big salary – in the past too, but realized back then that it would have been a mistake. One that they’ve made now, probably, not just by releasing him, but by failing to add to the roster a central midfielder capable to organize the build-up by looking forward, not backwards or sideways.
Just one point behind Dinamo, CFR has failed to impress me in the first half of the season, not to mention their first game of the year, won 1-0 versus FCM Targu Mures. Still, what will happen if this teams finally clicks? The manager Jorge Costa has changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 to make better use of the available players, but there are question marks regarding their back four, especially on the flanks, as well as their attack. The schedule could favor them though, as they’ll play away only against FC Vaslui and Dinamo, but the consecutive matches between rounds 23 and 25 (vs Otelul, Vaslui and Rapid) should find them in top shape…
Two Brazilians have been released and Costa will have problems replacing at least one of them. If Pantelis Kapetanos, once a reliable goalscorer for Steaua, has already netted a winner vs Targu Mures, playing instead of Weldon (7 goals in the 1st half of the season), a certain Nicolas Godmeche has been signed to replace Renan Garcia, who now plays for Sampdoria.
According to gsp.ro, Lazio is looking for a strong centre-forward and the Greek is on a very short list, as the cheapest option, around 2 million Euros. Kapetanos has been a top player for Steaua, coming as a free agent two years ago and proving indispensable, scoring 26 goals in 54 appearances in Liga I. He is yet to feature this season, as he missed a big part of this summer’s training, being involved in the World Cup, and also because Steaua’s ex-coach, Victor Piturca, wanted a different type of player as the lone striker. Things look different now, though, as Ilie Dumitrescu, the new trainer, said that Kapetanos is one of the team’s four vital players and, without a replacement, he’s hoping that the Greek can stay fit throughout this campaign. The player is expected to start his first game on Monday, when Steaua plays the newly promoted Victoria Branesti, while I expect the player to stay put, in case of a 2 million Euros offer, given Dumitrescu’s strategy and Gigi Becali’s desperation to keep the new coach happy.
Becali’s improvising: Ilie Dumitrescu, who was initially asked to be the club’s president, is the new coach!
Humiliated by Victor Piturca and facing the fans’ anger, Gigi Becali had to move quickly and try to please the masses. The initial plan was to convince Anghel Iordanescu, Ilie Dumitrescu (president) and Gheorghe Hagi (coach) to take charge, but Hagi’s refusal to abandon the excellent project at his football academy and return to work for the man that had insulted him beyond excuse forced Iordanescu to retire from the project. Dumitrescu, who had announced his intention to give up coaching earlier this year, becoming a football pundit, didn’t. After a formal attempt to convince Hagi – his former colleague from Steaua and the national team – to take up the coaching position, the former Tottenham man accepted Becali’s proposal to occupy this role, asking for a symbolic one year long deal of just 1 Ron (around 25 eurocents), hoping to prove that his decision was determined by the love for the club and having more or less the same dream as Victor Piturca: to be Becali’s partner, rather than his always-exposed-to-public-humiliation-employee. Dumitrescu, who’s most notable experience as a coach was a short spell at AEK Athens, was presented today in a press conference by the Steaua’s new president, the legendary Helmuth Duckadam, the keeper who kept out four penalties out of five in the 1986 European Champions Cup final versus Barcelona. Below are the most interesting comments released today:
They say that a striker’s job is to score goals and I’m blaming Dinamo’s hard-working Cristea, Andrei, (the lazy one is Adrian) for taking his job too seriously? No, he deserves to be up there, battling with Kapetanos, another honest player and good professional, but the way he wants to become Romania’s top scorer at all costs reminds me of the days when Steaua or Dinamo were fixing matches just to offer one of their players the chance to shine in Europe…
Cristea scored a brace against Unirea Alba Iulia, after yet another waaay too selfish display (I’ve seen a dozen since media reports spoke about the player’s chances to move to Serie A, in the summer), and the two goals get him ahead of Kapetanos, ending, in my opinion, what has been an interesting and correct race for most of the season.
Yes, there are still two rounds to go, but we must consider that in the next round Dinamo meets its unofficial satellite club, Astra Ploiesti, (if required, Cristea could score at will) and that the Greek will miss the last game of the season, as he will join the national team for the first training camp, before the World Cup. So, congrats to Cristea for the title and good luck to Dinamo, I’m sure they’ll be able to get a few more hundred thousands Euro from the club that will eventually sign the player… Read more…
- Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt – FC Brasov 2-1 (Mulisa 16, Cebotaru 24 / Savic 23)
First win for Filipovic and Ceahlaul, undefeated in four games now, keeps working and hoping for a miraculous feat. It’s getting pretty embarassing for FC Brasov though, who were tipped with a shot at a European spot, after the first half of season and, without losing players (they even spent some money to enforce the team), coach Viorel Moldovan needs to take some blame for thie very poor start of 2010. After three defeats in a row, Brasov is in no man’s land and the lack of perspective will probably further damage the players’ morale and motivation. After Mulisa‘s opener (nice volley with his right foot, from inside the box), Dusan Savic scored his first goal for FC Brasov, but the Moldova international Cebotaru cancelled immediately the equalizer, in a mad first half. The second one was terrible, but right now both teams will gladly put results above the quality of the display.
- CFR Cluj – Pandurii 1-0 (Alcantara 25)
Unconvincing win for CFR, but a vital one. Poor match decided by the Brazilian centre back who now has the same number of goals scored (4) like his team-mate Yssouf Kone, who’s considered the best striker in the league, but has disappointed this season and will probably part ways with the Romanian club in the summer. Bud has won again the fight for a place in the first elevn with Lacina Traore, who is unsettled by the constant discussion regarding his future, and the Romanian centre forward offered a decent display, going close to a goal in the first half. Pandurii, on the other hand, came looking for a draw, having back on the bench the defensive architect Sorin “Sorinaccio” Cartu, but the experienced coach has a lot of work to do, in order to keep his team above the relegation zone. Read more…
After escaping the threat represented by Gigel Bucur, who moved from Timisoara to Kuban this winter, Pantelis Kapetanos used the first official match of the season to break away from the other players that are fighting for the Romanian golden boot award. He scored Steaua’s only goal in the surprising home loss against Ceahlaul and was the most dangerous player on the pitch for the red and blue outfit in a match that got off to a perfect start, but ended up as a real nightmare. Read more…
- Steaua’s centre-forward Pantelis Kapetanos (26) has earned his first call up to the Greek national team, for the friendly against Senegal, scheduled on the 3rd of March. Not the most eye-catching forward in the league, Kapetanos impressed in the first half of season and proved a vital player and a clinical finisher for Steaua, scoring 9 goals in 11 starts for the red and blue outfit.
- Not 100% fit after his back injury that forced him to lose completely the first half of season in Romania, FC Timisoara’s centre forward Dejan Rusic (27) missed out on a transfer to Olimpija Ljubljana.
- Joao Paulo Pinto Ribeiro (29) has been declared a free player by the Professional League and the striker who had a terrible scoring record at Rapid (3 goals in 40 matches!) is free to sign with Leixoes.
- Steaua Bucharest presents Florentin Matei (17) as one of the club’s hottest prospects. Club owner Gigi Becali says that the kid has a bright future at the Bucharest club, but, at this age, the skilled attacking midfielder isn’t getting any space to accelerate his development, not even in Steaua’s reserve team, which is playing in the Romanian second division…
- Jose Alcides Moreno Mora, also known as Pepe Moreno (28), is very close to a return to Steaua Bucharest. The Colombian centre-forward left a very good impression last time he played for the Bucharest side, scoring 5 goals in half of season and producing a number of solid displays. Pepe Moreno is expected to rejoin his former colleagues in Turkey, on Monday, and he should increase the competition for a starting place upfront and especially put some pressure on Greek CFWD, Pantelis Kapetanos (26).
- FC Timisoara made an attempt to buy the former U21 international Liviu Ganea (22), from their arch-rivals, Dinamo Bucharest. The promising forward was rarely given the chance to feature for Dinamo, collecting 15 appearances, in spite of making his debut back in 2006. Loaned to CS Otopeni (7 goals in 26 matches) and, this season, to Astra Ploiesti (6 goals in 12 matches), he was recalled in December and now is fighting for a place in the team with the likes of Marius Niculae, Florin Bratu, Claudiu Niculescu and Andrei Cristea. The tough competition encouraged Timisoara to come forward, but Dinamo refused an initial bid of 500.000 EUR, in spite of the player’s uncertain future on short and mid-term.