Play Greece in play-offs
15 November ~ Reaching the play-offs – in which they will play Greece tonight – was always the best Romania could have expected from the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign. There was never any belief that the team could beat Holland to the top of the group, and with Turkey there too, most people were looking at third place as a reasonable ambition. However, Turkey's terrible start meant that the group opened up, and Romania ended up just pipping Hungary and Turkey for second (an awfully long way behind Holland).
The best that could reasonably be said about Romania in those last few anxious matches was that they were well organised. And that they'd already got their Holland games out of the way.
But finish second they did, in a relatively tough group, and the draw has been kind to them – Greece were arguably the weakest team in the first pot, and to play them at home in the second leg is the best draw Romania could have wished for. Cue happy supporters and slight panic from the coach Victor Piturca and the federation, who have since been doing their level best to damp down expectations and stress how good a team Greece are.
It's hard to imagine a feast of football and a glut of goals. Romania defend well but lack anything that could be called a creative spark. Greece appear to still be very much, well, Greece – scoring 12 goals and conceding four in their ten qualifying games. A frankly low quality, but possibly excitingly tense, pair of games seems the most likely. The bookies make the match almost too close to call, with Greece the very marginal favourites.
Injuries have robbed Romania of arguably their best player (Tottenham's Vlad Chiriches), and their first choice keeper (Steaua's Ciprian Tatarusanu), but against Greece this may not make a huge difference. The replacements will be adequate.
It's the lack of any playmaker in midfield that will really make the task difficult. Not that the midfield playmaker is injured, merely that there isn't one. The most recent player (of the many) hyped in Romania as the "Next Hagi" would be Gabriel Torje, currently playing on loan at Espanyol, but he is wildly inconsistent – and even at his best is certainly no Gheorghe Hagi.
Twenty years ago in the US, Romania set the World Cup alight. It's safe to say that if they do make it again this time, this team will not be doing the same. But at least, with the brand new national stadium already sold out for Tuesday's return leg, there is some hope and enthusiasm around the country – and there is a chance that they will be going to the World Cup for the first time since 1998. Andy Hockley