Decent defence rather than cult classics are what Romania have to offer at Euros
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | April 23, 2016
Football fans and punters of a certain age will remember Romania being a force through mercurial attacking talents such as Gheorghe Hagi and Adrian Mutu, who history cast as cult heroes rather than perhaps living up to their potential.
The Tricolorii return to the big stage at Euro 2016, and are odds-on at 4/5 with Coral to progress from a pool, Group A, that also contains tournament hosts France, Switzerland and Albania. Romania are a better bet at 7/4 to be eliminated in the last 16, however, now the European Championship has an expanded format.
Returning to the subject of memorable players from this Eastern European state, younger readers may be shocked to hear there was a time when Chelsea didn’t have the mega millions of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, but beforehand the Blues possessed another influential import. Only, Dan Petrescu was on the pitch tearing things up down the right flank, not a boardroom backer.
Romanian footballers are no strangers to the Premier League and Championship. The likes of target man Ioan Viorel Ganea (Wolves), plus defensive duo Vlad Chiriches (Tottenham) and Gabriel Tamas (West Bromwich Albion) join centurion Razvan Rat (West Ham United), among others, in having plied their trade in England at various points.
While it would be wrong to advocate any of these more modern examples have lived up to Petrescu’s performances on our shores in the 1990s, when representing their country Romania’s defenders have developed into a watertight unit.
Case for the defence
Boasting the best rearguard record in qualifying of eight clean sheets and just two goals conceded, Romania went unbeaten by winning as many as they drew from 10 games en route to the Euro 2016 finals in France. It is a first appearance at a major tournament for them in eight years.
Who has marshalled this meanness towards opposition attackers? None other national than captain Chiriches – sold by Spurs to Napoli last summer after falling out of favour with Mauricio Pochettino.
Chiriches certainly always had the potential to match the profiles of contemporaries like Cosmin Contra (also briefly with West Brom) and Rat by making a defensive impact abroad, but Serie A may yet prove to be a division where he is better able to demonstrate his qualities.
Detractors will point to Romania’s relatively straightforward qualifying pool, which also included fellow Euro 2016 finalists Northern Ireland and Hungary – not forgetting flops Greece.
How sure can we be of back four form?
Others may add the Neapolitan charge towards the Scudetto has faltered this spring, allowing Juventus to nip and plot a course for what now looks like yet another successful title defence.
Consider Chiriches checked, then, but he’s only figured in one league defeat for Napoli and been able to shut out the nations Romania were paired with. If the above doesn’t impress you, then how about grinding out a 0-0 draw with reigning dual European champions Spain in a warm-up friendly?
Again, it’s easy to be downbeat on Chiriches and co here. La Roja no longer call on Fernando Torres and David Villa – that dynamic strike pairing that fired them to back-to-back Euro successes and the 2010 World Cup in between.
Those absences notwithstanding, it is wise not to denigrate Romania’s achievements from a betting perspective. Right back Paul Papp proved to be their joint top scorer in qualifying, and that is one area that there is cause for concern.
Back to the future
Anghel Iordanescu is in his third spell as Tricolorii head coach, and had his heyday when steering his country to three successive tournaments in the 1990s; performing best when eliminated from the World Cup in the USA in a quarter-final penalty shootout.
Romania simply do not have an inspirational leader like Hagi nowadays and Iordanescu has left Ciprian Marica off his national roster since the first game of qualification.
Marica, a versatile forward who has played top-flight club football in Ukraine, Germany, Spain and Turkey, is the only thing close to a proven, prolific striking option for his country.
The Tricolorii netted just 11 goals between them in their 10 Euro 2016 qualifying matches, and over the last five years or so their attacking talents have seen moves abroad to big clubs fail.
Short of strength in depth up front
Winger Gabriel Torje has been farmed out by Udinese for four successive seasons on loan to teams that have got more and more obscure.
Striker duo Raul Rusescu and Bogdan Stancu, meanwhile, were prolific for domestic giants Steaua Bucharest, but simply couldn’t carry that form into respective switches to Sevilla and Galatasaray.
Alexandru Iulian Maxim, yet another pretender to Hagi’s throne, has spent the last few seasons caught up in the decline of Stuttgart as a Bundesliga force and is reduced to battling relegation.
Bizarre club career choices from among his forwards aren’t helping Iordanescu either. Claudiu-Andrei Keseru was little more than a French league journeyman before getting a shot with Steaua, where he stepped into the shoes of Stancu and Rusescu nicely.
Instead of trying to test himself in a tougher league again, Keseru joined Qatari team Al-Gharafa and is now leading the attack of Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets Razgrad – a level that is arguably lesser than that which he played at home.
Constantin Budescu, another who managed to net more than once for Romania en route to making the France finals, now plays second tier Chinese football with Dalian Yifang.
Pool progress best case scenario
Group A pairs the Tricolorii with some of the up-and-coming attackers of world, let alone European, football, and they do rather look like being left behind when battling Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Antoine Griezmann, plus Xherdan Shaqiri among others.
That physical approach from Chiriches and co that you come to expect from an Eastern European outfit is unlikely to faze such players, because they test themselves against elite opposition regularly.
Romania can conceivably get four points from their pool, holding the Swiss should they silence Shaqiri and there is certainly enough in Tricolorii ranks to beat Albania, but the first knockout round looks a hurdle they are going to be found wanting in trying to clear.
You’ll find more detailed features like this one on all competing countries at Euro 2016 over on Coral’s dedicated section.