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Sunday, 01 June 2008

Euro 2008 Profiles; Romania


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You won’t find many people outside Romania taking a punt on their national side reaching the quarter finals of Euro 2008, much less winning the title.

Should Victir Piturca’s side suffer defeat to all of France, Italy and Holland in Group C nobody in the football fraternity will bat an eyelid. They are universally viewed as the also-rans of the section as the world waits to see which of the more illustrious trio joins the Romanians on an early flight home from Austria and Switzerland.

Yet a quick glance at Romania’s record in qualifying suggests that things are less straightforward. Four points from six in two games against the Dutch in qualifying show that they can mix it with the bigger names. They romped home as group winners ahead of Holland with two games to spare, flaying Albania 6-1 in their final match. All of which took them to their first major international tournament since Euro 2000 when a Phil Neville-inspired disaster proved to England fans just how competitive Romania can be.

Piturca led the side in qualifying for that tournament, but is now in his second spell in charge following a controversial dismissal. A row with Romanian footballing Deity Gheorghi Hagi is now in the past, and results have improved accordingly. Piturca seems undaunted by his side’s task at Euro 2008, and well he might be with the glare of the spotlight on their competitors. Romania will hope to sneak under the radar of one of the big boys and while they remain odds against to qualify, nothing is impossible. That was proved by Greece at Euro 2004 who, having been drawn with Portugal, Spain and Russia in the opening phase not only negotiated that assignment but went on to dispose of France, the Czech Republic and Portugal again to claim an unlikely triumph.

If Romania are going to emulate that feat they will need performances from the few star players they do have. Adrian Mutu has bounced back from his nightmare at Chelsea to become a key figure for both club and country. Mutu has been prominent in Fiorentina’s surge to Champions League qualification from Serie A, while his partnership with Stuttgart’s Ciprian Marica yielded 11 goals in qualifying for Austria and Switzerland. Challenging those two for a starting berth could be Inverness Caledonian Thistle marksman Marius Niculae, called up to the squad after Dinamo Bucharest’s Florin Bratu was surprisingly left out.

Inter Milan’s Christian Chivu is one of Europe’s top defenders and possesses invaluable experience. He can also help out in midfield should Piturca so desire, and there is yet more European experience in the shape of veteran Getafe defender Cosmin Contra. Yet the new man set to catch the eye for Romania is Banel Nicolita. The Steaua Bucharest man is a skilful, pacy winger who normally operates down the right, with midfield balance added by club-mate Nicolae Dica on the left. If Chivu is deployed further forward he could form a central midfield partnership with Siena’s Paul Codrea. Look out also for attack-minded left-back Razvan Rat. Despite the dodgy moniker, Rat has impressed with Shakhtar Donetsk this season and could thrill old school fans of the over-lapping full-back. The central defensive options include Auxerre’s Gabriel Tamas and Steaua’s Dorin Golan.

Goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont looks worryingly unchallenged for his position after Danut Coman suffered a broken thumb in training and was sent home.

At odds of 40-1 to ‘do a Greece’, the only pressure on Romania is that which their own fans and media might place on them. It will be interesting to see how Mutu deals with his first major international tournament, and how the likes of Nicolita and Rat cope on the big stage too. Romania’s trump card could yet be Piturca who, if nothing else, knows how to get the best out of his relatively meagre resources.

You shouldn’t lump your mortgage on Romania, but nor should you take it for granted that they will be the makeweights of the competition.

By Stephen Orford

1 June 2008

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