2017 was not a good year for Romanian football, especially for the national squad. With respect to club teams, again, only one Romanian team ended the year by staying in the European competitions, namely FCSB, formerly known as Steaua Bucharest. But let us take a closer look at 2017.
The Romanian national squad began the year from the 4th place in Group E as part of their qualifying campaign for the World Cup to be hosted by Russia this summer. Romania’s first official game was played in Bucharest. On March 26, they took on Denmark in the central Transylvanian city of Cluj and badly needed a win to stand a chance of qualifying. The match ended in a goalless draw and Romania remained in the 4th position in the group, with the same number of points as Armenia.
Romania’s hopes were now pinned on their June match against Poland in Warsaw. Polish football star Robert Lewandowski once again proved his mettle and scored three goals for his team to dash Romania’s hopes. Poland were the better team in every respect, playing a pragmatic and focused match and taking advantage of the flaws in Romania’s defensive line. Scoring for Romania was Bogdan Stancu, and the national squad kept their 4th place in the group, their qualifying chances seriously dwindling.
After their September matches, Romania lost all hope of making it to the World Cup. With the German manager Christoph Daum at the helm, Romania pulled off a 1-nil win against Armenia at home, but then lost to Montenegro 1-nil in an away match. The results of the following group matches only mattered for the team’s record.
In mid-September, Cosmin Contra was appointed manager of the national squad. In October, Romania defeated Kazakhstan in Ploiesti, 3-1, then drew against Denmark in Copenhagen 1-all. Romania’s national team ended the World Cup preliminaries in the 4th-position in Group E. It was one of the national squad’s worst qualifying runs of all time. Poland secured their ticket to the World Cup, followed by Denmark after play-offs. Montenegro finished in the 3rd place, Armenia in 5th, and Kazakhstan in 6th.
In club competitions, Astra Giurgiu were the only Romanian squad to still be in the European competitions at the beginning of 2017. In February, Astra played in Europa League’s round of 32, but they were eliminated by the Belgian side Genk after drawing 2-all at home and losing nil-1 away from home.
In domestic football, the overachiever of the 2017-2017 edition of the First League championship was Viitorul Constanta. Funded and trained by Gheorghe Hagi, the team won the title after finishing Group 1 with the same number of points as runner-up FCSB. The trophy went to Viitorul for its better scores against FCSB in the second half of regular season. FC Voluntari won the Romanian Cup after defeating Astra Giurgiu 6-4 after extra time and the penalty shootout. At the end of regular time the score was 1-all. FC Voluntari went on to win the Supercup, winning 1-nil against Viitorul Constanta.
Romania had thus five representatives eligible for European inter-club competitions. Viitorul and FCSB played in the Champions League preliminaries, while Astra Giurgiu, Dinamo Bucharest and CSU Craiova played in the Europa League preliminary stage.
FSCB and Viitorul played directly in the Champions League third preliminary round. The team from Bucharest knocked out Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic, after drawing 2-all at home and winning 4-1 away from home. In the Champions League playoffs, Nicolae Dica’s trainees were drawn against Sporting Lisbon of Portugal. FSCB drew nil-all away from home, but were trounced on home turf in the return leg, 1-5. FCSB was thus qualified to the Europa League group stage.
In turn, Viitorul Constanta was knocked out on its first ever match in Champions League. In the third preliminary round, Gheorghe Hagi’s trainees played against APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus. Viitorul won 1-nil at home in the first leg. In the return match, the score showed 1-nil for APOEL at the end of regular time. The hosts scored three times in the extra time and thus advanced to the Champions League playoffs. Viitorul subsequently played in the Europa League playoffs, where they lost 1-3 at home and nil-4 away from home to Red Bull Salzburg of Austria.
Astra Giurgiu played in the Europa League second preliminary round, where it ousted Zira of Azerbaijan 3-1 at home and nil-all in the return leg. In the third preliminary round however Astra lost to Oleksandria of Ukraine, nil-all on home turf and nil-1 in the return leg. In turn, Dinamo Bucharest was knocked out by Athletic Bilbao of Spain, drawing 1-all at home and losing nil-3 in the return leg, while CSU Craiova was eliminated by Italy’s AC Milan, nil-1 at home and nil-2 on San Siro stadium in Milan.
FCSB had a powerhouse start in the Europa League group phase, winning 3-nil at home against Plezen, 1-2 against Lugano of Switzerland away from home, and 1-2 against Hapoel Beer-Sheva of Israel away from home. FCSB then drew against Hapoel at home, securing qualification for the round of 32. Unfortunately FCSB lost the last two group fixtures, nil-2 against Plzen and 1-2 against Lugano, thus missing the chance to secure the top position in Group G and the opportunity of facing a weaker opponent. FCSB will play Lazio in the round of 32 in a double-leg in February. (Translated by E. Nasta & V. Palcu)