Road to the finals
With plenty of experience in international competitions under their belt and only the Netherlands of the ‘big’ teams to contend with, Romania’s chances of qualifying for Austria and Switzerland were always good. However, they managed to exceed expectations, competing with and eventually topping the group at the expense of the more famous Dutch squad.
Even without this boon, considering their rivals in the group were Slovenia, Luxembourg, Albania, Bulgaria and Belarus, the Romanians had good reason to be confident going into the qualification process. Things started somewhat shakily against Bulgaria though, as the Tricolours threw away a comfortable two goal advantage at home in the final ten minutes due to the heroics of Bulgaria’s Martin Petrov. The setback did not prove too dramatic, as the campaign was firmly placed on track with a professional 2-0 victory in Tirana against Albania courtesy of Nicolae Dica and star player Adrian Mutu. This was followed by another easy win against the Belarussians 3-1 in Bucharest.
Such results were largely to be expected but, when the Romanians came up against the Dutch in Rotterdam, the challenge was far greater. However, a stout defence marshalled by captain Christian Chivu proved enough to frustrate the ultra-talented Netherlands attack and secure an invaluable point away from home. This gave the Romanians plenty of confidence, and it was reflected in subsequent results and performances. Luxembourg were unsurprisingly dispatched with ease by three goals, and this was followed by an excellent away day showing in Slovenia for a 2-1 win. The next round of fixtures saw two further victories, at the expense of the Slovenians in the return game in Romania and against the Belarussians.
With the Dutch following suit, qualification for both was a foregone conclusion, but the Romanians were able to spring a surprise when the two collided at the Gheorghe Hagi Stadium. As the Netherlands again failed to break through the Romanian line, Dorin Goian notched the winner and remarkably pushed them into contention as group winners. Despite going down to Bulgaria in Sofia 1-0, they duly took the group when the Netherlands were defeated by Belarus, which followed the Romanian onslaught against Luxembourg for a 6-1 victory. Moreover, with 11 more goals than the Netherlands in the group, there’s no doubt they were worthy winners.
Born in Dolj on May 8th 1956, Victor Piturca has been a part of Romanian football for well over 30 years. A former professional who began his career with Dinamo Slatina in 1974 while still a teenager, he made his name with heavyweights Steaua Bucharest during the 1980s. Over the course of 6 years and 175 appearances, Piturca thumped in an awe-inspiring 165 goals for the great Bucharest side, and both dominated the Romanian league and even captured the European Cup in 1985.
Eventually retiring in 1990, having played a surprisingly paltry 13 times for his country, he spent a number of periods with Steaua Bucharest as manager, and even managed the Romanian senior national side and the u-21s for a period (although he was sacked as senior coach due to disagreements with players). His current tenure with the Tricolours began in 2004 and he will be leading his players out for the first time in a major competition.
Three to watch
Romania’s vice-captain and a player with mounds of experience in the top European leagues before the age of 30, Mutu’s career has also been marred by controversy. Beginning his career with Dinamo Bucharest, he immediately attracted the attentions of the top clubs, signing up with Inter Milan in 2000 before moving to Verona and then to Parma. It was with the latter club that he really made his mark, scoring 18 goals in the season and a big money move to Chelsea followed.
Sadly, Mutu never justified his 22 million euro price tag, as a string of disappointing performances and fall-outs with manager Jose Mourinho culminated in a drugs controversy that saw him banned from football for 7 months by the FA. He was sacked by Chelsea and eventually moved to Juventus, soon departing for current club Fiorentina. Since then, he has regained his form to become a start for both club and country once again. Euro 2008 could see him prove this to the world.
The captain and heartbeat of the Tricolours, Christian Chivu is simply one of the finest defenders around today. Having moved from Romania in 1999 to Ajax Amsterdam while still a teenager, he quickly endeared himself to the fans there and was elevated to club captain before making the jump to Italy’s Serie A with Roma. Again, he justified his transfer fee of 18 million euros and became a star for the Roman club over four years before the endless speculation over his future culminated with a move to Inter Milan in 2007.
Despite having over 50 caps to his name, Euro 2008 will remarkably be his first major tournament in international football. He’ll be hoping it lasts as long as possible.
One of Romania’s most promising youngsters, Marica is nevertheless developing at the highest level with the national team and at club level in the Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart. A potent striker, he started his career with Dinamo Bucharest before moving to Ukraine’s FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Having moved to Stuttgart for 8 million euros (a club record transfer fee), he has been enjoying experience in one of the top European leagues while also making strides with the national team since his debut in 2003. A fine qualification campaign highlighted him as a possible star for the future and he’ll have the chance to show off in Austria and Switzerland.
Win or lose?
Being the unfortunate fourth team in the group of death, Romania’s chances of winning the competition are pretty slim. This is reflected in the odds, with 888 Sport, Ladbrokes and William Hill all placing them at 40/1 to win. It would be a brave man who would decide to stake their money, but the Romanians have pulled a shock or two off already.