Is not known for doing well in the European Championships. The last
one, 1996, was a downright embarrassment, with the team losing all
three first round matches (although the second match against Bulgaria
is highly contested, as Munteanu's goal was discounted by the ref).
Before that, in 1984, they also failed to get past the first round. Will
they follow through after a strong qualifying round performance, or will
they suck it up when they have to play teams that aren't Azerbaijan
Romania's most recent match was a victory in Constanta on April 26
against Cyprus. It was a 2-0 win, with goals by up-and-coming strikers
Adrian Mutu and Ionel Ganea. A month earlier, they were upset 2-0 by
Greece. While it is important to note that for both these matches Ienei
did not have the squad at full strength, this performance isn't exactly
European Champions' calibre. In February, the team (mostly Divizia A
players, as the rest of the team had commitments with their club sides)
played in a tournament in Cyprus, along with other small Eastern
European teams. In the "Ghetto Cup," Romania placed second after
having lost to Cyprus in the final. The real test for the team will be a
friendly against the Netherlands on May 27.
Romania is in Group A, along with England, Germany, and Portugal.
Against Germany, Romania has gone 1-2-7 in 10 matches, with a
record of 20%. This may seem like the Germans have an obvious
upper hand, but if you look at where the statistics come from, namely
before the Second World War and the Early nineties (both of which
were not exactly high points in Romanian soccer), combined with the
recent performances of both teams, they are pretty evenly matched.
In France, Croatia defeated Romania 1-0 on a sketchy penalty. They
then defeated Germany 3-0 with an even more incompetent ref. Using
the theorem of football transitivity, Romania could beat Germany 2-0,
if the ref happens to be on the dimmer side.
Romania has a 2-6-2 record with England. The last time the English
have defeated Romania was in 1970, a win which was followed by
many draws, up until the World Cup, in which Romania won 2-1 in
the first round. For some reason, the English have a problem dealing
with defending Romania's attack (if you consider fouling Constantin
Galca every time he touches the ball to be "defense"). This, of course,
is fine by me.
Portugal were in Romania's qualification group, so both teams know
what to expect from one another. Romania defeated Portugal in
Lisbon, and drew in Bucharest. Their overall record is 4-2-4. Overall,
the matches in this group should be close and exciting to watch. Any
side could beat the other two on any given day. Good times will be
had by all. (Big ups to the RSSF archive for all this interesting data.)
Romania's style of play has traditionally been the counter-attack. For
those unfamiliar with it, classic Romanian counter-attack looks
something like this: While the opponents are trying (unsuccessfully) to
score, keeping the ball in Romania's end, Romania's defense will take
possession of the ball. Suddenly, there are seven or eight yellow
shirts, with the ball, on the other side of the field, surprising the
opponent and creating an offensive overload. Before the rest of the
team figures out what is going on and gets back on defense, the
Romanians have already scored. This is the style made famous by
Anghel Iodanescu, the style which took them into the quarterfinals
(although they should have really gone farther than that, but now is not
the time to talk about what a dirty player Klas Ingesson is) at World
Cup USA '94.
Romania generally uses a 4-4-2 lineup, but during the World Cup
Iordanescu did experiment with 3-5-2.
The team's main strength is that player for player, Romania probably
has the most individual talent of most of the teams in the tournament.
On defense there's Gica Popescu and Dan Petrescu, in the midfield,
aside from Gheorghe Hagi, there is also the often-underrated Costel
Galca, while up front there are Adrian Ilie and a new addition to the
team, Adrian Mutu of Inter.
The main weaknesses are age (a lot of these guys, like Hagi and
Popescu, are well into their thirties), the fact that there is a new coach,
whose style the team is still adjusting to, and many of these players
are extremely injury prone (Adrian Ilie in particular).
Players to Watch
Defense - Gheorghe "Gica" Popescu
has been called the "most complete Romanian player." Although he
normally plays sweeper, he has also been used in a man-marking
position as well as a defensive midfielder and has been equally
successful. Gica was born in Calafat (near Craiova) on September 9,
1967. He started his playing career at Universitatea Craiova, spending
the 1987-88 season at Steaua doing "compulsory military service"
(whatever). That season, Steaua were national champions. After the
1990 world cup, when Romanian players had a chance to play in more
competitive leagues, Gica joined PSV Einhoven, where he was the
national championships in 1991 and 1992. After the 1994 world cup,
he moved to Tottenham Hotspur, where he did not get as much playing
time, as he, as well as the other Romanians in the league, couldn't
adjust very well the the playing style in the premier league. In 1995 he
moved to FC Barcelona, where he won the league cup. In 1997, he
moved to Galatasaray, and in his first season, he and Gheorghe Hagi
helped lead the team to a Turkish national championship. Today,
Gica is still at Galatasaray, who are on their way to doing the "treble" -
winning the national championship, the league cup, and the UEFA cup.
On the national side, Gica's playing is a HUGE factor in the success of
the team. A longtime veteran of international play, Gica was Romanian
player of the year in 1989 and 1990. His game is always consistent,
and, despite his age, he remains an effective defender without resorting
to playing dirty.
Midfield - Gheorghe Hagi
I could write a book about all the awards and honors Gheorghe Hagi
has earned throughout his career - Romanian player of the year,
Divizia A championships, Divizia A top scorer - but no small paragraph
is really enough to do him justice. Gheorghe Hagi, known as "the
Maradona of the Carpathians" is easily one of the greatest players of
all time. He is a genius on the field, and his ability to score from free
kicks using his deadly left foot is legendary. In his hometown of
Constanta, the stadium was re-named in his honor. He was born
February fifth, 1965, and began playing for his local side, Farul
Constanta in 1982. He later joined Sportul Studentesc, in while
at Sportul he was the leading scorer in the Divizia A in the 1985-86
season. He was immediately signed by Steaua Bucharest, where he
went on to win the European supercup. With Steaua, Hagi led the
team to three league and cup doubles. After the 1990 world cup, he
went to Real Madrid, and in 1992 joined Brescia in the Serie A.
In 1994 he played for Barcelona with Gica Popescu, and he left
Barcelona for Galatasaray in '96.
Hagi made his debut for the national side at the age of 18 in 1983.
Since then he was been, literally, the cause of the rise of Romanian
soccer in the 1990s. His playing style revolutionized the Romanian
game - his speed and creativity made those famous counter-attacks
possible. At 5'8" tall, wearing size five boots, Hagi is one of the more
diminutive players on the field, but in terms of his impact on the game,
and the status of Romanian soccer, he is larger than life. By bringing
so much respect to Romanian soccer, Hagi opened up opportunities for
future players, as clubs from all over Europe come to scout talent in
Romania. Hagi, deservedly, was named Romanian player of the
century. Although he is a shadow of his former self as a player, he
really still is amazing to watch for both Galatasaray and the national
team. After this season, however Gheorghe Hagi will be hanging up
those size five boots for good. After a failed attempt to retire from the
national side a year and a half ago, Hagi is calling it quits with soccer
altogether. As this is his last tournament, we can only expect he will
play in a way he would want us to remember him by.
Forward - Adrian Ilie
As Emeric Ienei and Victor Piturca have been altering the attack for
nearly every international match, only one name has remained
consistently in the lineup of choice - Adrian Ilie. Born April 22 in
Craiova, Ilie's beginnings in soccer were humble, playing midfield for
Electroputere Craiova. Steaua soon got wind of this talented midfielder
and signed him in 1993. With Ilie as the main play-maker, Steaua won
the league championships 1994-1996. In 1996, he went to Galatasaray,
where he was converted to an out-and-out forward, where, as it turns
out, he really excelled. He was signed by Valencia in the spring of 1998.
Galatasaray, frustrated that one of their star players was leaving,
decided to start a rumor that Ilie had hepatitis B. Great Idea, guys! At
any rate, the medical tests showed that this was false, and Ilie went to
Spain, where he made a big splash in the league by scoring 12 goals in
the last 15 games. Nicknamed "la Cobra" for his ability to strike from
nowhere, Ilie easily won over the fans - despite saying in his first
month there that he would leave if there was a team that would pay his
$30 million dollar buy-out fee. The next season, Ilie, paired with
Argentina's Claudio Lopez, was a huge factor in Valencia's success.
This season, has not been so great, as Ilie has been plagued with
injuries, and he and the new coach, Hector Cuper, do not get along
Ilie's career with the national side really took off after Euro '96,
where he came in as a substitute for Ilie Dumitrescu. After it
became obvious that Ilie could kick Dumi's ass six ways to Sunday,
Ilie has been the go-to guy up front ever since. If his form in the
Champions' League matches is any indicator, this could be a great
tournament for Ilie, provided he stays healthy.
Constantin "Costel" Galca - Not too many people know who Costel
Galca even is. He is mostly known as "number 5" and "that really fast
guy who keeps getting fouled." An excellent passer and dribbler,
Galca is the one who gets the ball to the Ilie, and Hagi, and others.
Those of you who follow Espanyol already know this, but he's also a
goalscorer when he needs to be. He is also known for not diving when
fouled. He doesn't get all the press that Ilie, Hagi, and other players
get, which is really too bad. But pay attention to this guy - he is literally
where the action is.
Adrian Mutu - 18 goals in 18 games for Dinamo Bucharest. No, this
golden-boot, this is actual talent. He got his start on the U21 side
and now has a place on the national side, and will even start should
Ilie get hurt. Currently at Inter, he is doing pretty well there too.
This kid is the wave of the future - so if he has a good tournament,
you will be seeing him in the next Nike soccer ad. Just remember,
you heard it here first.
Dan Petrescu - I can't not mention this guy. A wing-back with
Chelsea, Dan plays in the midfield as well as defense. He's a
great defender, and quite fast considering his age. He has a
knack for coming up with a goal when it's needed most - like
against the US in 1994 or England in 1998. He was recently
named to the all-century Romanian team. For those of you only
semi-familiar with Romanian soccer, first of all, shame on you
(just kidding) and secondly he's the one who kind of looks like
special agent Fox Mulder on the X Files.
Before the match against Greece, Romanians had high hopes
about their team. Adi Ilie said that he believed they could go all
the way to the final match. The loss to Greece was a complete
debacle for Ienei as a coach, as journalists proclaimed that we
should have stuck with Piturca. (Actually, we should have hired
Mircea Lucescu). The FRF is not widely respected, probably
because most everyone believes that they can make better
decisions than its boss, Mircea Sandu. Sandu says that if the
team really screws up this summer, Ienei is still the coach. My
Transylvania-gypsy-style fortune telling abilities tell me otherwise.
Although most Romanians, due to widespread corruption during the
Ceausescu era continuing into the present, are very cynical about
the Divizia A, the national team has always been a source of pride.
Getting to see guys like Hagi kick butt a few times a year almost
compensates for having an awful domestic league. This tournament
has a lot of emotional significance, as Gheorghe Hagi is going to
retire afterwards. This will hopefully not only motivate Hagi, who
plans on going down in a blaze of glory, but also the rest of the
team, many of whom are also nearing retirement age. This is the
one time that the team really needs to pull together, because even
advancing past the first round will be no small task. Adrian Ilie is
right: Romania can go all the way, but are they willing to work