We are two goals away from the Brazilian World Cup. And we’re playing at home, pushed by 55.000 souls. It doesn’t look that bad, really, yet there’s an overwhelming feeling that everything was lost in Athens and we’re only waiting for a painfully long confirmation, in Bucharest, on a cold Tuesday night that has so little to do with what awaits the winner in Rio, in the summer of 2014. I’ve not jumped ships, I have been pessimistic about Romania’s chances all along, but in Romanian. Now it’s time to be in English as well, so here are a few thoughts on why this now or never game has so little chances to finish with a dream result.
selection and match strategy, unaware that the key absences (Tatarusanu, Chiriches, Pintilii) weaken precisely the defense he decided to put so much emphasis on once again, unable to react to the opposition’s tactics of outnumbering our central midfielders with the use of both wide forwards and opening up highways on both flanks for the advancing fullbacks, the coach was left to blame poor marking at set plays and a first goals scored from an offside position.
Now, he gets a hand with his team selection, as Tatarusanu and a masked Chiriches are back, but the loss of two central midfielders (Bourceanu and Lazar) will pose new questions to his ability to select a winning 11. On the other hand, he faces again the type of game he hates and never propery prepared his team for: the one that he’s supposed to win by opening up the opposition’s defense.
There’s an obvious lack of quality as far as players are concerned, I’ve said it before, we don’t really deserve to go to Brazil with this lot, but there’s the feeling that blame rests on the Piturca’s shoulders once again, both with the lot he assembles every time and with the choices he makes when it comes to picking the starting eleven.
Let’s start with Athens.
He picked Lobont in goal ahead of Pantilimon (according to his selection, the Manchester City shot stopper is Romania’s fourth option, although he recently got the nod – albeit temporarily – ahead of England’s number 1). The veteran from AS Roma, with no official games under his belt, no hunger and little authority, failed to make up for the team’s defensive errors and can only get praise for stopping Greece from netting the fourth goal.
In central midfield, he paired Bourceanu with Cocis, not Lazar, losing chemistry and technical ability, mocking an entire country with his choice and shocking Cocis himself, who stated afterwards that he never expected to start this game.
Upfront, behind Marica, he used Torje on the right, who was a regular starter in this campaign, but lost touch with regular football at club level, picked Stancu ahead of Maxim and, as usual, started with Tanase on the left. Picking Stancu ahead of Maxim, who’s one of the most in-form players at club level and has been a hit in the Bundesliga since he joined Stuttgart, is the main criticism Piturca faced during and after the match. I think that’s not the best approach to the matter, and not just because Stancu scored the away goal that still has a (slim) chance to make the difference. He does fit the game strategy Piturca picked for this game, he has a good fitness and form level, has not played that bad recently for the national team. Actually, Stancu deserved to start, so I would say that the best line of criticism is this: leaving Maxim out was a mistake, as he can just as well play on either flanks, where both Torje and Tanase have disappointed, both before and during the Athens encounter.
Let’s move to the second leg, where Romania is expected to start with Tatarusanu in goal, a back four of Matel, Goian, Chiriches and Rat, Cocis and Gardos in central midfield, Nicolita, Maxim and Stancu behind Marica.
We get back two players that are vital for our chances to keep a clean sheet, but we are weaker than ever where often a football match is won, as the absence of Bourceanu and Lazar (both suspended) forces Piturca to do a rare thing for him: think outside of the box. The pair Cocis – Gardos is odd to say the least. Gardos has played there years ago, but he’s a central defender. Cocis has played there days ago :), but in truth he’s the type of all round midfielder that can play everywhere, but is yet to find his best role on the pitch. And he’s 30 years old… They never played together either and this pairing puts Piturca on the spot for yet another reason: why did he call up Ovidiu Hoban – who is average and out of form, let’s be honest – if he doesn’t find him up for this game? He is a defensive midfielder, the only available defensive midfielder, yet he’s not Piturca’s third choice, he’s his fifth!
We move further up the pitch and finally find Maxim among the expected starters, deployed behind Marica, which pushes Stancu wide to the left and pushes Tanase further left, on the bench :). The pressure will be huge for Maxim, whose trickery and cheeky backheel touches have produced nothing but disappointment so far for the national team, on the rare occasions he was give the nod. Yes, let’s be honest and say that Maxim plays better for Stuttgart than for Romania, and let’s stay honest: it happens because Stuttgart tries to play football, while Romania only tries to stop the opposition from playing football. Now, all eyes are on him and Piturca himself showed once again his terrible man management skills, by saying “Maxim will have the chance to prove me wrong in the second led”, a pathetic and useless attempt to divert the blame for not offering his most talented attacking player more than 5 minutes in Athens.
It’s an all or nothing game, with an ideal scenario of scoring twice and keeping a clean sheet. Not an impossible feat, but a highly unlikely one given all the above arguments. Greece has not impressed me – they also got punished from a set play, in spite of a huge aerial advantage -, but I can’t see Romania able to turn things around. Everything looks lined up against us, from tradition to deal with such games, to the quality of the roster, the obvious limits of the coach and the lack of solutions to line up a competitive starting eleven even in perfect conditions, not only now, when so many problems will influence Piturca’s choices. To be honest, in spite of my belief that we don’t deserve to go to Rio, I would be obviously disappointed if we’d miss out on yet another final tournament, but I’m gutted that nothing will change for us while the current coach remains in charge. And, according to his contract, that’s at least until 2016…
WBA defender Gabriel Tamas makes a fool of himself, just like Victor Piturca, the national team coach
After Romania’s defeat against Holland, in the qualifiers for the World Cup, Tamas hinted towards an end of his international career, after some 50 caps and 3 goals. Angry that the media was harsh on him, although lately he was used on the right side of the defense, in an uncomfortable position, he wasn’t convinced about this step and let others, like Adrian Mutu, throw this bone to a press that rarely gave him breathing (and drinking) space on his returns from England.
Called-up for a friendly game vs Trinidad-Tobago, he was happy to come back for another cup. Sorry, for another cap. His first night in Romania ended up at 7.30 in the morning, with him wasted, making a huge scandal both when leaving the club and when trying to enter a block of flats. Denied access, he didn’t give up and took his time to break the door, climb to the first floor and take the much-needed rest for any professional footballer, sleeping face down on the floor. That’s how the police found him, but when he woke up, apparently he was lively enough to make the officers use handcuffs to take him in. A juicy enough story for the Romanian media, but things just got worse for Tamas, as the building had cameras installed and offered this pathetic image of a player who had a history, but never before a movie like this one…
Victor Piturca, the national team coach, reacted, by dropping Tamas for the game vs Trinidad-Tobago. Unfortunately, he did it in a press conference, when he said the following: “I have replaced Tamas, but no further punishment will be taken against him. He’s an admirable, loyal lad. I am sure all this will go unnoticed in England, but will be a lot of talk over it in Romania.” A normal statement, wouldn’t you agree? In the end, we’re talking about the coach of the national drinking team…
Romania’s national team coach and players said they want 4 points from the double against Hungary and Holland. They got just one, snatched in the overtime of a poor game in Budapest, losing 0-4 in Amsterdam a few days later, after a similar display.
Victor Piturca’s starting eleven for the second game was shocking, with lots of changes and several high risk bets, and the team had no reaction during the second heavy defeat against the Dutch during a campaign that can still have a happy end. In 3rd place, just one point behind the play-off spot, Romania plays at home against both Hungary and Turkey, will travel to Andorra and host in the last game Estonia. Nevertheless, lots of issues must be addressed in order to make it and, apart from the players’ form, the manager’s ability to identify, admit and correct his mistakes is vital for our chances to be just two games away from a place at the Brazilian World Cup. That’s why I think we’re doomed
Unfortunately for us, Piturca lives in a world of his own, refusing critics, entertaining suburban attacks and explaining us that his dictatorship will continue until 2016, when his current deal expires. A deal that stipulates as sporting goals qualifying Romania for the next final tournament of the European championship, a deal that excuses him from any mistakes during the current qualifying campaign, saying that he’s supposed to find the winning formula for the next one. Angry at the heavy, deserved criticism following recent display, Piturca organized a press conference to defend himself, but a lot of his statements can be
twisted turned against him…
- “During the winter, some bookies offered odds on my imminent sacking. It’s very difficult to achieve something under these circumstances.”
- “I don’t see the point of a question regarding my departure from the national team. You can talk about it, but I am not pressured by the results. The president of the Federation was laughing when we talked about it.“
So, the pressure gets to him, but, of course, it doesn’t get to him. The fans and the media harm the national team by talking about it / betting on it, but do not harm him, who is untouchable until 2016. And laughs about it with the guy nicknamed The Godfather.
- “Initially, I didn’t want to call Mutu, as I didn’t and still don’t think he’s physically able to play for both club and national team. I did create a special schedule for him, asking him to come earlier to the training camp. He came late and I told him he’s free to do whatever he wants, that he’s out of the team. The second day he arrived and was a mess for hours, begging to be forgiven. He wasn’t acting, he even cried.”
So, Mutu is not physically ready and he misses out on the special fitness schedule, staying “at a level not good enough for the national team”. Still, Mutu will be among the starters in the first game and will play 90 minutes against Hungary, on a heavy pitch, in Budapest.
- Steaua’s Cristian Tanase was the player with the worst physical shape, according to tests made in the national team’s training camp.
Tanase was in the starting lineup against Holland, playing for 60 minutes, ahead of team-mate Alexandru Chipciu, who had scored the late equalizer in Budapest and was looking in top shape, ahead of Alexandru Maxim, who had also played in the 2nd half of the game vs Hungary and, a few days later, would have started and scored for Stuttgart, against Borussia Dortmund.
- “In this campaign I have given up playing with three defensive midfielders, I only field two. You asked for a spectacular, offensive game, you got it. Our game has changed a bit. Against Holland, we could have defended the entire game and, with a bit of luck, get a point. But we played to win the game!”
In other words, the fans and the journalists are to blame for the defeat against Holland. Didn’t understand the “you got it!” part…
- “This is the country we are living in: we’re quick to judge people, to offer advice, but we don’t look at ourselves first.”
Well, he’s got a point. As the national team coach, I am ashamed of the way the team is playing, but I would like to remind everyone that I am under contract for the rest of my days, so back off!
In recent times, only George Florescu was better ranked in the list of unpopular figures in the mediocre national team that failed to qualify for a final tournament since 1998. What few people know is that these two had a similar start of their professional career, Florescu and Cocis leaving Universitatea Cluj, when they were 17, in a controversial double transfer to Sheriff Tiraspol, and playing afterwards in Ukraine and Russia.
If Florescu, who was a regular starter under Razvan Lucescu, failed to convince the current coach, Victor Piturca, during the friendly against Austria, played last June, Cocis returns to the team even if he was left out for the double against Estonia and Andorra, for the relief of the entire country. He featured last time in August, against Slovenia, but now he will not only get back in the fold, but seems to have strong credentials for earning a spot in the starting eleven. Once again, negative comments surfaced, but they’re unlikely to make Piturca change his mind. Quite on the contrary, considering the man’s stubbornness.
The public’s opinion, fueled by several coaches who analyzed the 29 years old’s game, is that Cocis is the sort of midfielder who can play everywhere, but won’t impress anywhere. ‘Tactical discipline and a good engine have made him invaluable in recent times though, when whoever coached Romania thought first to block the opposition’s game rather than try to create play. He has collected 43 caps and the fact that he scored only 2 goals only proves that he usually adds a defensive intent to the attacking positions he covers.
He’s expected to do the same in Istanbul, on Friday, when Piturca thinks to deploy him behind the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, but mainly to frustrate the Turkish build-up rather than support either Marica or Stancu, with the latter favored to start ahead of the Schalke backup striker, considering the excellent start of season he’s enjoying at Orduspor.
Romania will be playing hoping for a draw and the general feeling is that players like Cocis will never allow us to hope for more. The paradox is that we’ve always had gifted players and lacked the disciplined, hard-working ones, and my impression is that we might be wrong pointing the finger at Cocis, who is – in the end – admirable in his determination to please the coaches who trust him. Our real problem isn’t his presence in the team, but the absence of a quality number 10 and the coaches’ inability to adjust their tactical setup to the type of players they could and can count on. If things go bad in Istanbul, Cocis will be the perfect scapegoat once again and his former mate, Florescu, can start warming-up…
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…
Romania kicks-off another qualifying campaign and Victor Piturca won’t have to resign in case he misses out on the tickets to Brazil. His goal is to make it to Euro 2016 – that what his contract says, if you believe it or not – and already some of the players say that it’s not vital to take six points from the first two games, versus Estonia and Andorra. Makes sense, considering there’s no real pressure to finally reach a final tournament…
So, quite relaxed, Piturca should be looking to find the right setup, so he can take the best out of the current set of players and, as I think the current 4-2-3-1 isn’t delivering, I’ll share my thoughts on how I’d see the starting eleven and best tactical setup, using a selection that should have included goalkeeper Dani Coman and attacking midfielder Lucian Sanmartean, both from FC Vaslui.
In goal, I’d go for Pantilimon, who has been training with some of the best players and coaches and has the brightest future of all. Lobont lacks competitive games and the kind of size that will be required at least versus Estonia, while Tatarusanu is so inconsistent that he’s a rotation player even at club level.
The back four poses another problem: who deserves to pair Vlad Chiriches in central defense? Luchin played in the center for Dinamo last weekend and could be a solution, but I’d go for Astra’s captain Valerica Gaman. Would have preferred a quicker centre-back or at least one with a lot of experience and ability to sweep any activity that might happen behind Chiriches, who’s very comfortable on the ball and loves to show it. This way, Luchin can return at right back, as I don’t consider Matel back to his best (and not sure that his best is national team material either).
I’m sure Piturca will pair Steaua’s Bourceanu and Pintilii in front of the defense, in a 4-2-3-1, but I think Pintilii is a natural anchorman and, just like Bourceanu, is more effective when operating alone there. That’s how he earned his first call-ups, that’s how he got the chance to move to Steaua from Pandurii. And I’d prefer him instead of Bourceanu, who’s a hard working guy, aggressive and all, but more limited in terms of vision and timing, vital attributes at this level.
In front of the only anchorman, three dynamic attacking midfielders would push back Estonia and keep its’ defense and midfield very busy, with Tanase and Torje in their favorite positions and the in-form Alexandru Maxim deployed in the central attacking midfielder role that lacks solutions in Liga 1 at this point. He’s great on the ball, mobile, works well on tight spaces and should not miss from Romania’s starting eleven tonight. With an option for the number 10 position, I would have left on the bench Torje and started Maxim on the right side instead – he’s definitely playing better these days!
Upfront, I’d go for a pair of strikers. Definitely! Marica lacks the qualities to play alone upfront, he’s a second striker, useless when forced to play with the back at the goal and to challenge for high balls, sent from the defense or from the flanks. Niculae is this type of player, able to win balls, hold them up, create spaces and also finish and I’m sure Marica and Romania as a team would benefit from his presence on the pitch. It would finally make sense to develop the play on the flanks and go for the cross when opportunities appear…
Romania starts the campaign away in Estonia, a tricky opponent that would be followed by Andorra at home, and a six points tally is a must, before the qualifiers really get going, as Hungary, Turkey and Holland will stand in the way of a performance that’s been missing since 1998.
Victor Piturca – who always begs for a quiet atmosphere, friendly media and devoted, enthusiastic crowds – kicked it off with another debatable selection and a scandal involving FC Vaslui, a club that could & should have sent at least four players, instead of two. As much as he tries, Piturca won’t convince that Dani Coman and Lucian Sanmartean didn’t deserve to be in the team. We have three goalkeepers who are either out of form (Tatarusanu) or out of match fitness (Lobont & Pantilimon), while the argument that on the left side of midfield there’s Cristian Tanase and Sanmartean isn’t needed is a joke and puts the coach in a bad spot. Even if he was only backup, Sanmartean was a great solution on the bench or for the second match, not to mention that he would have offered Piturca the chance to even alter his tactical ideas to include two very good attacking midfielders in the same line-up…
To draw a parallel, it makes no sense calling-up both Bourceanu and Pintilii from Steaua. Bourceanu will start, so why have Pintilii as backup, especially after you’ve criticized him for playing below par since his transfer from Pandurii. But trying to find logic in Piturca’s choices is a waste of time, no wonder that’s exactly what Romania has done in recent years on the international stage.
I’ll end with the classical wish for luck. We’re definitely going to need a lot, if we’re to stand a chance in this campaign…
Here’s the complete squad for the double versus Estonia and Andorra:
Goalkeepers: Bogdan Lobont (AS Roma), Ciprian Tatarusanu (Steaua), Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City)
Defenders: Alexandru Matel (Astra), Valerica Gaman (Astra), Srdjan Luchin (Dinamo), Dragos Grigore (Dinamo), Dorin Goian (Spezia), Vlad Chiriches (Steaua), Razvan Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk), Adrian Salageanu (FC Vaslui)
Midfielders: Gabriel Torje (Granada), Adrian Popa (Steaua), Alexandru Bourceanu (Steaua), Costin Lazar (PAOK), Mihai Pintilii (Steaua), Claudiu Voiculet (Pandurii), Alexandru Maxim (Pandurii), Cristian Tanase (Steaua)
Forwards: Raul Rusescu (Steaua), Marius Niculae (FC Vaslui), Ciprian Marica (Schalke), Gheorghe Grozav (Petrolul)
Victor Piturca selected 23 players for the midweek friendly versus Slovenia, 9 of them coming from abroad generally with problems at their clubs that could get a helping hand from this call-up. If Lazar, Papp, Rat and Stancu are enjoying a good status, Marica is on Schalke’s black list for some time, Lobont fights for a place on the bench, not between the sticks, Torje needs to impress on loan in La Liga, while Tamas has no idea if WBA’s change of manager will also change his fortune. Add to this the level of Liga I and the lack of outstanding performers over here and it could make some sense to think about players like Adrian Mutu or the retired Cristi Chivu.
Piturca explained that he’s still waiting for the two, but the striker needs to find himself a decent team and prove that he can reach a decent level of form, while Inter’s defender should come back on some recent statements that lead everyone to believe that he’s seriously considering a return to international football. If not all the fans/journos are excited about it – a view I personally don’t share -, Piturca certainly is, explaining that the current team needs someone to look up to and finally Chivu (and not Mutu!) is considered the sort of player and personality that fits the leader’s profile.
Here’s Romania’s squad for the friendly vs Slovenia:
Goalkeepers: Lobont (AS Rome), Ciprian Tatarusanu (Steaua), Silviu Lung Jr. (Astra)
Defenders: Papp (Chievo), Luchin, Grigore (Dinamo), Chiriches, Gardos, Latovlevici (Steaua), Tamas (WBA), Gaman (Astra), Rat (Shakhtar)
Midfielders: Torje (Granada), Roman (Rapid), Bourceanu, Tanase (Steaua), Lazar (PAOK), Cocis (FC Rostov)
Forwards: Niculae (FC Vaslui), Grozav (Petrolul), Marica (Schalke), Stancu (Orduspor)
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.
In 2008, Steaua needed a favorable result in Universitatea Cluj – CFR Cluj and the club’s owner, Gigi Becali, sent 1,7 million euros in a suitcase to Cluj, to offer extra motivation to the home team. Teia Sponte, one of Steaua’s officials, was caught with the valuable package and Becali ended up in jail for a couple of weeks, before being released and judged as a free man for almost four years. Accused of trying to bribe players, he defended himself by saying it was a reward, that it was money which would have lead to a better performance from a team, and after a very long trial he was recently declared innocent alongside all the others involved in the case. Among them, the current national team coach, Victor Piturca.
Of course, the story got a lot of coverage in the Romanian media and I’ll make an exception this time – as you noticed, I’m trying to stay away from all these extra-football stories here and focus on the game – because there is one angle all the journalists have missed. In 2008, when everyone came to court to answer the prosecutors’ questions, Piturca (among others) defended Becali when he was denying the accusations, and said that the suitcase wasn’t sent there to influence the result of the above mentioned match, but as payment for some real estate deal Becali was doing in Cluj. Is it only my impression that Piturca lied under oath? And, I’m not very good at this ;-), but isn’t it a crime to do so? I mean, in a normal, civilized country, not Romania…