Having not qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2008, Romania will be joining Europe’s elite at Euro 2016 after qualifying for France with relative ease. The Romanians will be at least hoping to get out of Group A having been drawn alongside hosts France, Switzerland and Albania in what, on paper, looks like an achievable goal.
Having somewhat been out of the international spotlight for last few years, we caught up with Avram Alexandru who will be cheering on the Tricolorii to get an insight of what to expect from the Eastern Europeans this summer.
After going through the qualification stage undefeated with five wins and five draws, Romania should fancy themselves to at least get out of the Group at this summer’s finals – how do you think they will fair?
We indeed finished the group undefeated, having one of the best defensive records of all the teams that played in the qualification stages but it’s important to say also that we had quite an easy group with Finland, Faroe Islands, Hungary and Northern Ireland. Our achievement was due to a great team spirit, a good defensive organisation but also to the opponents’ lack of offensive quality.
With France as the hosts and one of the the tournament’s favourites, Romania can only fight for the group’s second place with Switzerland and Albania. Our team has played well recently on the counter-attack and although it will surprise you, I expect us to do better with Switzerland than with Albania. Lorik Cana’s team will most likely sit deep and looking back, it’s hard to find a recent game where we could keep the possession, attack patiently and find gaps in the opposition’s defence after a good build-up play.
On paper Group A seems like a good one for the Romanians, what was the public reaction after the draw – one of optimism?
The reaction of both the Federation and the fans was indeed one of optimism. The tournament’s opener with France has already generated a lot of excitement over here and the whole country is buzzing for the big game. We have not played at a World Cup since 1998 and at a European Championship since 2008, therefore you can understand how much the game with France will mean to the Romanians.
Hagi’s generation accustomed us to good football badly and the general opinion around here is that the matches with Albania and Switzerland will be easy ones. However, the difference between the Romanian national team and Albania’s one has been dramatically reduced lately and results such as the 5-1 from March 1987 or the 6-1 from November 2007 are long in the past. As for Switzerland, we can’t even compare their big names (Shaquiri, Xhaka, Lichsteiner, Rodriguez) with our best players and our potential success can be built only on hard-work and good organisation.
Who are the key players to look out for at this summer’s finals?
The truth is that there isn’t a single player that can be considered key to our chances at the Euros. Romania’s current national football team does not depend on anybody. The best covered position is the goalkeeper, with Fiorentina’s Ciprian Tătăruşanu and Watford’s Costel Pantilimon. Most of our clean-sheets were due to good performances and to a mutual understanding between centre-backs Vlad Chiricheș (a reserve at Napoli) and Dragoș Grigore (currently playing in Qatar) but none of them are irreplaceable.
A pleasant surprise can be Steaua Bucharest’s number 10, Nicușor Stanciu, who has been recently linked with AC Milan. At 22, he scored on his debut in March 2016 with Lithuania and a few days later, in his second game, he was named man of the match in the 0-0 draw with Spain in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
What tactics are the Romanians likely to play in France? Will head coach Anghel Iordănescu spring any surprises?
Since he is an old-school football coach, we should not expect for any tactical surprises from Anghel Iordănescu.
However among his staff, you can find three young and talented coaches, former players for Romania who are up-to-date with the requirements of modern football and who have scouted most of the Romanian foreigners during the Qualification process. Among Iordănescu’s staff you can definitely recognize Viorel Moldovan, the ex-Nantes striker who scored against Engand at the 1998 World Cup and against Germany at Euro 2000. We expect him to make a good contribution to the national team in both motivating and advising our strikers at this tournament.
The main focus will be the defence and we should expect Romania to sit deep and try to counter-attack whenever the occasion arises. Conditions may change against Albania, when we may see a much more offensive selection from Iordănescu.
Some wonderful players have represented Tricolorii in the past with the likes of Gheorghe Hagi, Gheorghe Popescu and Dorinel Munteanu pulling on the famous yellow shirt – are there any youngsters who have a chance of emulating them one day?
We had Adrian Mutu and Cristian Chivu in the 2000s but after their generation, we no longer produced quality players.
There are a couple of development centres created by the Federation, however our country does not have even a youth football championship. Lots of young players with potential are lost when they reach 18 years old and are forced to look for a contract elsewhere or to hang up their boots.
As only a few football managers rely on young players, most of the kids have no other option than to leave. Steaua Bucharest, the most important club in Romania, gave up on its Academy just because the owner could not see its meaning. Smaller clubs from the first division prefer to sign out-of-contract second rate foreign players instead of promoting young local lads.
What is the state of domestic football like nowadays? Perhaps in the past it was famous for corruption, has this side of the game been cleaned up?
Romanian football had a lot of problems with corruption but most of the football club’s dubious club owners involved in such activities have left their clubs once they started to have trouble with the law. Some of them were arrested, some of them are still being investigated by the local authorities, but they are no longer in the headlines.
After they left their clubs, they have struggled to survive and at this time, except for Gigi Becali’s Steaua Bucharest, the other teams depend on money from TV rights, which are covering up to 70% of their total budget. League officials and representatives of the clubs are estimating that if television companies would cease funding cash, our national championship competition could continue with only four or five teams.
Group A also contains fellow Eastern Europeans Albania – what can we expect of them and is there any added rivalry in coming from the same part of Europe?
Although Albania are from Eastern Europe, we never felt that there is a rivalry between us. Until recently, the difference between the two national sides was immense and a match with them was always an easy one. Things have changed now however.
Our fierce rivals here in Eastern Europe are Bulgaria and Hungary. Unfortunately, our southern neighbours will watch the Euros from their homes but it would be very interesting to see a match with Hungary in the knock-out rounds. It will definitely generate a lot of enthusiasm and interest from all the people in this part of the world.
Romania have secured two very creditable friendly draws against Italy and Spain in recent months – are the team really improving or can’t we find out too much from these types of games?
We produced excellent performances with Italy and Spain and the results were well deserved by the players.
It must be said however that while we treated these friendlies as official games and played with high intensity, both Antonio Conte and Vicente del Bosque did not use their first eleven and experimented new things and also featured a few surprises.
If we meet them again at the Euros in the knock-out phase, I do not expect the same treatment from the Italians and Spaniards, although both matches brought us hope. But I must stress again that we must keep our feet on the ground and work hard because we are definitely no longer the Brazilians of the Europe as we were once nicknamed and we no longer have the Maradona of the Carpathians – the one and only Gheroghe Hagi.