With all the focus on Romania’s double against Turkey and Holland, there was little attention paid to the U19 national team that played three games in Scotland, against the home side, Switzerland and Armenia. But that’s not news, just like the information that the team just missed out on the tickets to the Elite round, which would have been the last stage before the final tournament of the European Championship.
Romania started by earning what looked like a valuable point against Switzerland, Mihai Vodut‘s goal being cancelled by Endogan Adili just before the break. The game was followed by a 0-1 defeat against Scotland, who had won 4-0 their opening game against Armenia, the only change in the starting line-up seeing Alexandru Dan take the place of Iulian Rosu in a midfield line that had a more obvious defensive approach given the profile of the three players used.
Still, the race wasn’t over, as Romania needed to win against Armenia in the final match and a Scotland success in the duel with Switzerland, who had won as well against the group’s weakest team. Unfortunately, although both conditions were met (the home side trailed twice, yet came back and pushed for a win that wasn’t even necessary at that point), Adrian Vasai’s boys won’t make the next step. Dinamo’s Darius Buia scored very late, in the 82nd minute, and Romania failed to add a second goal that would have seen it through to the Elite Round.
It’s a bitter defeat for a decent team formed mainly with players from Steaua, Dinamo and Viitorul Constanta, who would have needed some more experience in its’ ranks. A look at the Swiss starting eleven, where several starters are already used on a regular basis at club level, in the top flight, is enough to see and explain the difference. A small one, if we look at the standings, a bigger one, if we dare to look at the bigger picture.
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…
Under heavy criticism since the start of the season, the Italian coach looks to have finally earned some credit and the quiet atmosphere that comes along with it. It might have been down only to Dinamo’s first winning streak of the season (the Red Dogs only managed a draw in Medias this weekend, after three consecutive wins) but behind this good run of results is a playing style that starts to define a team under construction, with a roster that combines the huge experience of Ionel Danciulescu and Catalin Munteanu and the youth spirit of George Tucudean, Cosmin Matei or Constantin Nica.
Very ugly in the beginning, refusing to play, sitting back and working only to frustrate the opposition, even if it was inferior in terms of squad quality and club size, Dinamo was heavily contested. Supported only by the board and a part of the fans, but at war with the influential agent Victor Becali and most of the journalists, Bonetti deserves credit for his consistency and the hidden work that lead to a surprising transformation of a team that now is quite difficult to play against. The more you try to hurt it, the bigger chances you’ll be the one to suffer, by the quick reaction of a tight unit able to unleash deadly counters. Lacking enough attacking flair and worried about a rather young defense which lost its pillar, Cosmin Moti, to Ludogorets this summer, Bonetti knew that he would have struggled to create a solid offensive team, so he started his work from the back. Using his first matches to put this to the test, he managed to calibrate his team in a matter of weeks, being lucky enough to get some points along the way (including a lucky last minute win against Petrolul). The climax was the impressive display against the revelation Pandurii, a team able to create – and waste – a ton of chances, but which allows you to do the same, if you can absorb this sort of pressure. And Dinamo certainly can, an ability that might see the team struggling to break weak, defensive opposition, but offer an advantage in the derbies that can decide, in the end, who deserves to be up there and who doesn’t.
Undefeated for almost a month now, Dinamo sits now in 5th place with 18 points and looks prepared to earn a European spot this season without glamorous displays, but with determination and hard work. And, comparing to the previous seasons, marked by an unrealistic, cocky approach, this time a place in the top five Romanian clubs will look like an achievement, not as a failure.
* foto from gsp.ro
In a weekend packed with derbies all over Europe, Liga 1 offers Steaua – CFR Cluj, the battle of the main title contenders and of the only two Romanian clubs that have made it in to the group stage of European competitions.
With four points after two rounds, Steaua has made a bright start in Europa League, even though luck was on the team’s side both in Stuttgart and, more recently, at home against a stubborn and well organized FC Copenhagen. Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf deserves credit though for ignoring the the owner’s call for full focus on the title challenge (and that’s always a suicidal approach…) and so far has done a great job in both competitions, as we are also talking of the current Liga 1 leaders.
CFR on the other hand has three valuable points in the Champions League, after the games versus Sporting Braga and Manchester United, and waits for the double versus Galatasaray that will shape the club’s future in Europe. The problem in Liga 1 is that the reigning champions have lost a lot of players and a lot of points already and a defeat on Sunday night would leave them 12 points off the top spot after only 11 rounds. A huge difference considering the poor opposition Steaua encountered so far in the league! As well as the mediocre displays from the likes of Vaslui, Dinamo and Rapid, Teams that in theory should prevent an early break-away from such a serious title contender.
It will be an interesting encounter between a team that likes to attack in numbers and put a lot of pressure in the opposition’s half and one that has struggles to win midfield battles in Liga 1 so far and dictate play, but is a master of counter-attacking football. A tactics that has suffered a blow as the very quick Moudou Sougou has just been added to a long list of casualties, while Steaua can not only be proud with the excellent fitness levels, but also with a total lack of injured players and a strong competition for a starting place all over the pitch.
The Bucharest side seems to have the edge in what looks like a final for CFR, being fitter, hungrier and more determined than the Cluj side, so we should be in for a rare piece of entertainment, also considering the tens of thousand fans that will be once again behind Reghecampf’s men in the National Arena.