Romania is joining Europe’s elite at Euro 2016 after comfortably qualifying for the final tournament. Having missed on all the major tournaments since 2008 – when Adrian Mutu scored our only goal – , “Tricolorii” are planning to get out of Group A, although they have been drawn alongside France, Switzerland and Albania.
Friday’s tournament opener with France has already generated a lot of excitement in Romania, with the whole country buzzing for the big game played at Stade de France. “Tricolorii” 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.
It is remarkable that Anghel Iordănescu’s boys conceded only two goals in the qualifying matches, finishing the group undefeated and having the best defensive record of all the countries that played in the qualifiers. However, it’s also worth mentioning that Romania had an easy group with Northern Ireland, Finland, Faroe Islands and Hungary. “Tricolorii”’s achievement was due to an amazing team spirit, an excellent defensive organisation but also to the opponents’ poor offensive display. With France as the tournament’s hosts and one of the the favourites, Romania can only fight for the group’s second place with Switzerland and Albania.
At 66 years old, Anghel Iordănescu is unlikely to bring in any surprises within his selection or approach. Romania played well recently on the counter-attack and “Generalul” will continue to play his usual 4-2-3-1 which will look more like a 4-5-1, especially in the tournament’s opener. 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.
Although it may raise a few eyebrows, I think “Tricolorii” will do better with Granit Xhaka’s Switzerland than with Albania. Taulant Xhaka’s team will definitely sit deep and knowing Romania’s recent matches, it’s difficult to find a single one where we could hold on the ball possession, attack with patience and find gaps in the opposition’s defence after a good build-up play.
It is no doubt that the best covered position in the team is the goalkeeper. Fiorentina’s Ciprian Tătăruşanu and Watford’s Costel Pantilimon are two solid keepers. Tătărușanu had a good season in Firenze where he missed only one match in the Serie A, while Pantilimon – the tallest player at Euro 2016 – had some top performances in the second half of 2015, at Sunderland. Most of the clean-sheets obtained during the qualifiers were due to solid performances and to a mutual understanding between the two centre-backs Vlad Chiricheș and Dragoș Grigore. Cosmin Moti, champion in Bulgaria with Ludogoret and Valeriu Gaman, captain and champion in Romania with Astra Giurgiu, are decent covers.
Napoli’s Vlad Chiriches has been heavily criticised recently after a few mistakes in last week’s friendly with Ukraine and it will certainly be a lot of pressure on him. His tendency to run from the back with the ball at his feet will definitely make all the Romanians hold their breath at this tournament, many of us preferring him to change his style and to become more of a no-nonsense defender rather than an elegant one.
In a rigid 4-2-3-1, Anghel Iordănescu will play with two defensive minded central midfielders, Pintilii and Hoban, both of them over 30, who are well-known for giving away many fouls and many yellow cards. Don’t be too surprised if one of them will be sent-off against France. On the wings, “Tricolorii” will play with fast hard-working players, more praised for their work rate than for their flair and creativity.
The main man in midfield will definitely be Steaua Bucharest’s number 10, Nicolae Stanciu, who was recently linked with Zenit St. Petersburg and AC Milan. At 23 years old, he scored on his debut in March 2016 against 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. He scored two more goals in the pre-tournament friendlies and has 4 goals in 5 matches for his country. Stanciu is definitely one to watch at this summer’s Euros and a lot of scouts will definitively have him on their radar. Good with both feet, an excellent finisher with a good final pass, he has the ability to make a difference in the final third and the only question about him is if he can cope with the expectations.
There is no doubt that the first choice as a striker is Florin Andone. He had a very good season in Spain’s second division at Cordoba where he was the league top scorer. Having scored only once for his country in a friendly with Italy last year, he never played professional football in Romania but he is the Jamie Vardy type of forward with good pace and the drive to fight for every ball and never give up.
Among Anghel Iordănescu’s staff you may recognize Viorel Moldovan. He played several seasons in France, he scored against England at the 1998 World Cup and against Germany at Euro 2000. He was adored around here for how well he played the poacher role as a striker and the Romanian fans expect him to make a good contribution to the national team in both motivating and advising Florin Andone and the rest of his colleagues at this tournament.