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Author: Iain Macintosh

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For those of us of a certain vintage, the sight of Romania evokes memories of the 1994 World Cup, of Gheorghe Hagi and Ilie Dumitrescu, of that remarkable victory over Argentina in Pasadena. Sadly, they don’t have players like that anymore. They do, however, have the same manager. After a brief spell in the Romanian senate, Anghel Iordãnescu returned to national service in 2014 for a third time and took his country to only their third international tournament of the century.  But what are they like as a team?

Romania’s strengths are obvious to anyone who has taken a glance at their qualifying campaign. They finished their group unbeaten, having conceded only two goals in ten games. And when you watch them, it doesn’t take long to see why.

In their most recent friendly, a 0-0 draw with reigning European champions Spain, they picked up yet another clean sheet, holding out for a well earned goalless draw.

There are few stars in this team, at least not of the calibre of Hagi & Co. Goalkeeper Ciprian Tãtãrasanu, nearly two metres of him, is a regular for Fiorentina and captain Vlad Chiriches is at Napoli, but that’s as glamorous as it gets. Of the starting line-up against Spain, four play in Bucharest, three at Steaua, one at Dynamo, and the others are from fields as eclectic as Israel, Qatar and Turkey. But that means fewer egos to deal with, something that Iordãnescu will doubtless appreciate given that he used to try to tell Hagi what to do on a daily basis.

Chiriches is the authority at the back, dropping deep and allowing himself the room and the time to snuff out any dangerous developments. The full-backs, Steliano Filip and Cristian Sãpunaru are diligent, but they’re well protected by the wingers, particularly Adrian Popa who looks utterly tireless. With Ovidiu Hoban and Mihai Pintilli providing a two man shield in midfield, Romania can get very compact, very quickly.
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Image from Wyscout  Match Report

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But unlike group rivals Albania, they don’t naturally defend near their own goal. They pushed right up against Spain and pressed them, in phases at least, all over the pitch. When they won the ball back, they kept hold of it, happy to play out from the back. The only disappointment was that when they broke, they broke slowly, particularly as they entered the final third. The preference was always to maintain possession and allow attackers to get forward, rather than playing quick balls into space in the hope of taking Spain by surprise.

As a result, clear cut opportunities were rare. That said, given the energy they were expending putting the Spanish under pressure, Iordãnescu may have concluded that their time spent on the ball was time best used for getting their breath back. You can certainly understand why he didn’t want what little possession Romania enjoyed to be instantly squandered.

For all that, Romania do like the occasional long shot. Stanciu hit an absolute pearler against Lithuania in March and Popa seems to fancy his chances from range as well. If they need a goal and the circumstances seem unlikely, they do have their ways.

You would certainly be surprised to see Romania stage a reprisal of 1994 in France this summer, but they’re a better side than Albania and in a group where two points and third place might be enough to progress, they’ll be disappointed if they don’t make the last 16.
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Iain Macintosh
Is a football writer for ESPNFC and the editor of  The Set Pieces

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