May 12, 2016

    Will Romania be the next Greece?


    ROMANIA, who are appearing in a European Championship final for the first time since 2008, will be playing in Group A of this year's edition against hosts France, Albania and Switzerland.

    Aside from Fiorentina goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu and VFB Stuttgart midfielder Alexandru Maxim, most of the squad languish at small clubs in Europe's top five leagues, or play in Eastern Europe, Turkey or the Middle East.

    Creative spirits and fan favourites like veteran playmaker Lucian Sanmartean, 36, who plays in Saudi Arabia, and Maxim, struggle to fit in to coach Anghel Iordanescu's style and may take on only bit parts in France.

    One of Romania's highest-ever goalscorers and a European Cup medal winner with Steaua Bucharest in 1986, Iordanescu, 66, is nicknamed "the General" due to his long playing and managerial careers at Steaua.

    Now in his third spell as coach, he steered Romania to three major tournaments in a row during the 1990s.

    That included a run to the quarter-finals at the World Cup in 1994, led by the mercurial Gheorghe Hagi.

    Iordanescu's cautious tactics and penchant for talking down his team's abilities have irked fans. But he insists only the results matter - Romania have not lost since June 2014.

    The flip side of his work ethic is a lack of goals. His preferred strikers, like Turkish side Genclerbirligi's Bogdan Stancu, are strong on tracking back to defend but weak on scoring.

    Unlikely to cause an upset in the tournament opener against France, Romania will look to score against Switzerland on the counter-attack, and beat Albania, one of the event's weakest sides.

    But if Romania can escape their group, they would not be the first unfancied outfit from south-eastern Europe to go far at a Euro finals.

    Greece 2004 anyone?