Romania’s defense held out in Athens against Greece, with Gabriel Tamas at right back, a desperate, yet effective solution. Normally, we should have seen there Alexandru Matel, the 24 years old who featured in both play-off games against Greece last November, when Romania missed out on a place at the World Cup, who went on to finish another solid season with Astra Giurgiu, winning the Romanian Cup and finishing the league in second place.
Don’t look him up in Astra’s team that managed to take out Slovan Liberec and OL on its way to the Europa League group stage! You won’t find him in the starting line-ups, not even on the bench. You can find him in exile though, training on his own, twice a day, on the pitch of Astra’s abandoned stadium from Ploiesti. He’ll be there until next summer, waiting for the last year of his contract to run out, watching international games go by at a perfect age to play and impress.
He’s 24, fully fit, but after just over 100 games for Astra, still naive enough to think that Ioan Niculae, a rich guy who likes to own business and people, would have said: “well, it’s no problem if you don’t want to renew your deal, my team can still do with the best Romanian right back for another year!”. Well, the problem with most of the wealthy guys is that they rarely regard somebody else indispensable, valuable or at least worthy of respect. Other than themselves, that is…
Well, enough bad things about the owner. With all his faults, according to his version of events, he did meet the exact terms requested by Matel’s agent for a contract extension this summer. A scenario Matel didn’t feel the need to deny, which might just make it real. He prefers to pose as the victim, but it would have been a more convincing picture if he didn’t negotiate for a new deal in the first place. And Niculae, as any other rich guy out there, has the cash to surprise you. Usually, in a positive way. At times, in ways you and your agent might dislike. Because in a story that affects not only Matel, but more people and teams, there’s more than just one bad guy involved this time around…
While others prepare for the World Cup, Romania defeated Albania 1-0 after yet another mediocre performance, in the build-up for the probably easiest ever qualifying campaign for the European Championship. Still, Victor Piturca, the manager who still has a job only because the new head of the Romanian Federation refused to pay him 300.000 Euro, the price for an early termination of his contract, stated afterwards that Romania has the ability to defeat any team. Probably by boring it to death.
Piturca will also show great proud for his incredible courage of fielding the 16 years old Cristian Manea in a friendly, meaningless match, the Viitorul defender breaking a very old record about the youngest player to feature in Romania’s senior team.
The truth is, Piturca, as always, is not really keen on rebuilding this team. He sticks pretty much to the same players and he keeps on using the national team as a stage for players who really need these caps to get new contracts at club level. It’s no coincidence that 5 out of 11 starters are currently out of contract. And I also take this opportunity to present Piturca’s starting eleven vs Albania in a different key, based on club performances in the season that recently ended.
And a bit of math: average age of this starting 11 is 26.3 years. Without Manea, it’s 27.4 years!
Goalkeeper: Tatarusanu (27) – Champion with Steaua. Will probably sign with Fiorentina, as a free agent.
Right back: Manea (16) – Youngest ever player to feature in Romania’s senior team. Avoided relegation with Viitorul in the last round of the season.
Central defender: Chiriches (24) – Not so sure about his future with Tottenham, 6th in the Premier League, in spite of some bright performances.
Central defender: Grigore (27) – Won a Europa League spot with Dinamo. Will move to Toulouse, on a free transfer.
Left back: Rat (33) – Avoided relegation with Rayo Vallecano. Currently out of contract.
Defensive midfielder: Bourceanu (29) – Contribution to Steaua’s title and Trabzonspor’s Europa League spot.
Defensive midfielder: Pintilii (29) – Champion with Steaua. Wants to leave the club.
Right winger: Nicolita (29) – Average season with St. Etienne and Nantes. Currently out of contract.
Supporting striker: Chipciu (25) – Champion with Steaua.
Left winger: Maxim (23) – Avoided relegation with VfB Stuttgart.
Striker: Marica (28) – Avoided relegation with Getafe. Currently out of contract.
No worries, I also am quite sure Piturca will be able to take Romania to Euro 2016. But mostly because this one, with 24 teams at the start, will be almost impossible to miss.
2-0 vs Estonia, 4-0 vs Andorra and Victor Piturca looks like a happy man. “I’d give my boys a 10!”, said the coach after the win from Tallin and, surprisingly, went further after tonight’s success, offering a 10+. It makes sense only if you think that, before the game, he was happy with a 1-0 win against Andorra (please don’t pay too much attention to the FIFA rankings!), but who saw the match and the struggle to open up a crowded defense would beg to differ.
Romania made only one change to the starting eleven used in Tallinn, with the injured Goian making space for Gaman in central defense, a sign that Piturca isn’t even thinking to work on a plan B. He’s totally focused on making his counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 system work that he’s not using games like this one to prepare an attacking setup for the inevitable moments when Romania will be one or two goals down…
Obviously, the team struggled to score against a very poor team: hazard played a good part in the first two goals, the third came after a set-play and involved an unlucky deflection from Andorra’s keeper, while the last was a brilliant piece of individual skill from Alexandru Maxim… on a counter. We’ve wasted tens of crosses and around 20 corner kicks, which only showed Marica’s problems to use hight balls coming from the flanks and the supporting trio formed by Tanase, Grozav and Torje provided a clumsy overall performance. Torje was lively on the right and scored again, with a nice left footed shot, but he works too much on his own (ignoring the supporting full-back), while his service is often useless. Grozav has some nice touches, but is too inconsistent and runs the wrong channels, while Tanase was very poor, looking very predictable in movement and uninspired when on the ball, getting a very hostile treatment from the angered fans. I could also write a couple of lines about Bourceanu and how limited is Steaua’s anchorman, but I don’t like to repeat myself :-)
Nevertheless, Piturca is happy and I’ll explain why: for him, it was vital to notch these wins against teams that would have played like Romania intends to play versus the group’s favorites. He was disappointed to hear that Estonia failed to cause problems for Turkey, but he’s secretly hoping that Turkey won’t take all the points in Tallinn. Where both Hungary and Holland might make a “faux pas” and he’s dreaming to frustrate all these higher rated teams when playing against them with a similar approach to Estonia’s, but with a touch more of technical quality and tactical knowledge…
FC Timisoara is out of the Champions League and Liga I. Gloria Bistrita follows the Viola in the third division!
31st of March was the deadline to present the needed documents to get the professional licence and the right to play in Liga I next season. Of the 18 clubs, 8 (FC Timisoara, Gloria Bistrita, Universitatea Craiova, Gaz Metan Medias, FCM Targu Mures, CFR Cluj, Victoria Branesti and Unirea Urziceni) were denied it due to a lack of evidence that they had cleared all debt, but they all launched an appeal sending more documents to a special comittee, lead by a certain Viorel Duru (duru = tough, strict in Romanian!).
Duru held today a press conference and announced that five of the eight clubs will not be granted the right to play in Liga I next season. But, if Victoria Branesti, Universitatea Craiova and Unirea Urziceni were relegated anyway, the real victims are FC Timisoara and Gloria Bistrita. Timisoara, who finished the league in 2nd place, was undefeated for two thirds of the previous season, fought for the title until the very last round and had qualified for the Champions League’s preliminary rounds will probably go down all the way to the Romanian third tier!
The reasons? If Gloria Bistrita had debt towards the state’s budget, Timisoara, besides a similar issue, also failed to pay 1.2 million Euros of the 2.3 million Euros the club had agreed to pay Benfica Lisbon for the Romanian left-back Laszlo Sepsi.
In fact, this second reason also determined UEFA to eliminate FC Timisoara from the Champions League and it is thought that this call – although UEFA has no right to intervene in the licensing process of a certain country - had determined the Romanians to stay firm on the initial decision and not grant the licence for Liga I!
What’s certain: FC Timisoara will not play in the Champions League next season, but an exception can be found next Thursday, when the Executive Comitee of the Romanian Football Federation will meet to either confirm or deny this decision, which means that only then we will now for sure if and where the two clubs will be relegated from Liga I.
If Gloria Bistrita had little to say and no real power to change things in its favor – although this was the club heavily involved in match fixing before and after 1989, playing a big part in establishing league winners, fabricating goalscorers (remember the Golden Boot scandal) and relegated teams – FC Timisoara will go down with a bang. The bosses already said that they will fight in every possible way this decision, saying among others that they had reached an agreement with Benfica over the delayed payments in Sepsi’s case, and that the current ownership will stay with the team even if relegated to the fourth tier. They will try to take action in Lausanne, but also in civil court, where they will ask to be returned Balkan Petroleum’s investment in the club, calculated at around 40 million Euros.
Do stick around, updates will follow!
Desperate to keep a clean sheet. Trained to destroy, not to build. Hoping for a lucky counter or a well taken free kick. This is Romania. At any level. From the senior national team to the Under 0. We have it in our genes and we’re not making the smallest effort to change our mentality. And you can see it at club level. Where we’re defending. Destroying. Hoping for the counter-attacks that bring once in a lifetime 2-0 wins on Olimpico. And we still wonder why we have slim chances to see Romania at a final tournament in this lifetime…
For those not very familiar with the team in yellow, the weekend was looking promising on Friday evening, when Romania faced England, in front of a packed stadium in Norwich. Sandoi’s eleven that featured one keeper, five natural defenders and five natural midfielders, was trying to switch from a 4-5-1 to a 4-3-3, as the team got hold of possession, being probably the first in the world to try and use three forwards, without having at least one on the field! Read more…
Group D: France, Romania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Belarus, Albania, Luxembourg.
Basically, we’re fighting with Bosnia for the second spot and those who think that this national team can win against the big boys should pray that the point(s) won against France will be enough to compensate those we’ll probably waste against Albania or Belarus…
Focusing on the double against Bosnia, I think that Bosnia has the edge, as football tends to favor those who dare to attack, while Romania has been shaping up as a very organized and defensive team under Razvan Lucescu. And I don’t blame the talented coach, in fact he should be appreciated for acknowledging our new position in football and trying to re-inject the underdog’s mentality, the only one that paid dividends (remember the counter-attacking skills of Italy ’90 and USA ’94!) for a team that, in recent years, lacked the right approach.
Lucescu’s job is to keep the mentality and team spirit that managed to keep France at bay during the last campaign, but find the right approach for the matches Romania will have to win. Oh, and, yes, the right players…
Right now, our NT doesn’t look promising. The only positions well covered are goalkeeper (Coman and Lobont), central defenders (Chivu, Radoi, Tamas, Goian). We also count on Rat at left back, on the likes of Ghioane, Apostol and Tanase in midfield, and on Marica upfront. And I’d take out Apostol and even Marica, although he looks in better shape this year, but, in order to do that, other players must step in and this is Lucescu’s challenge: finding the new wave of players until September and the guts he lacked in the previous campaign, when he should have had a different approach, as the second spot was already lost, when he took over from Victor Piturca. But he went from handing a debut to the promising Mihai Roman (24) on the right wing to recalling veteran Bogdan Mara (32), from changing the team’s atitude to regularly calling the very talented, but also very lazy and inconsistent Adrian Cristea.
So, who will play at right back, can we find someone better than Nicolita on the right wing (Szekely, Roman), can we rely on the fragile midfield pair Ghioane-Apostol in the middle of the park, can we still count on Tanase on the left wing, if Steaua will play him as a mezzapunta, who’s the centre forward that should team-up with Marica, upfront? These are the questions… :-)