Unfortunately, 2018 was disappointing overall for Romanian football. Romania’s national football team fared fairly well, winning seven matches and drawing three times in its 10 international matches. Club teams on the other hand had under par results, considering no Romanian team reached the group stage of European inter-club competitions in the 2018-2019 season.
Let’s start with the national team. The agenda for March included two friendly games. First, in Nethania, Romania won 2-1 against Israel. The host team took the lead, but the Romanians eventually won the game owing to the goals scored by Nicolae Stanciu and George Tucudean.
Then Romania took on Sweden in Craiova, on the newly built Ion Oblemenco stadium. The match went to Romania 1-0, the only goal being scored by Dorin Rotariu. The game against Sweden also marked the debut of two very young and very valuable players: defender Ionut Nedelcearu, aged 22, currently playing for Ufa in Russia, and striker Dennis Man playing for FCSB, a player who last August turned 20. Also worth noting is that Romania’s national team never lost a match in Craiova, with a positive record sheet of five wins and two draws.
At the end of May, Romania played a friendly game against Chile in Graz, Austria. Our footballers clinched a 3-2 win after being led 2-1. Nicolae Stanciu put Romania in the lead, then Chile scored twice before half time. In the second half, Ciprian Deac and Constantin Budescu scored the goals that secured Romania’s win.
The national squad then received Finland on home turf on June 5th, also in a friendly match. Cosmin Contra’s trainees won 2-nil, the goals being scored by Cristian Manea and Ciprian Deac. At the end of the game goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont replaced Ciprian Tatarusanu. This was the 86th and last cap for the 40-year-old Romanian player, who on that occasion ended his professional career as a player. Lobont made his debut for Romania in 1998. Throughout his career he played for top clubs such as Ajax Amsterdam and AS Rome.
In autumn, Romania made its debut in a new European competition titled Nations League. The first match was played in Ploiesti on September 7th, against Montenegro. The game was played without fans in attendance given a penalty UEFA dictated against the Romanian Football Federation. The score ended nil-all, with Romania putting on a lackluster show.
On September 10th, in the second fixture of Group 4 in League C, Romania went up against group favorites Serbia in Belgrade. Scoring for the hosts was Aleksandar Mitrovic who speculated a faulty Romanian defense. Early into the second half, Aleksandar Kolarov challenged midfielder Alexandru Chipciu in the Serbian penalty box and the referee waved penalty kick for Romania. Nicolae Stanciu scored. Mitrovic then put the hosts back in the lead after a remarkable personal action. Five minutes later striker George Tucudean sent the ball back into the Serbian net after a well-placed corner kick executed by Nicolae Stanciu and the score went 2-all. Romania could actually walk away with a 3 point win from Belgrade. Four minutes before full time, Alexandru Mitrita found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic, but his shot was denied by the Serbian goalie.
On October 11t , in Vilnius, Romania’s national team grabbed a dramatic victory against Lithuania, 2-1. Romania dominated most of the game, but clinched the win only in stoppage time, on minute 89th, with Alexandru Maxim scoring the winner. Lithuania had made it 1-all minutes before, after Alexandru Chipciu scoring the first goal early in the first half. Romania thus grabbed its first win in Nations League. This also marked the first away win for Romania in an official match since October 8, 2016. At the time Romania defeated Armenia 5-nil in the World Cup preliminaries.
Also in October Romania drew nil-all against Serbia in Bucharest, also in a match counting towards Nations League. Romania had to do without a field player during the second half after Gabriel Tamas got a red book for a harsh tackle at the end of the first half. In the second half, the Romanians mounted a good defence and walked away with one point.
On November 17th, in Ploiesti, Romania secured a 3-0 win against Lithuania in the last but one fixture of the Nations League. George Puscas, Claudiu Keseru and Nicolae Stanciu scored for the hosts who eventually ranked 2nd in the group tables. The final match was played in Podgorica, against Montenegro. Romania played well, missed a couple of chances and eventually grabbed the three points. George Tucudean scored the only goal of the match with the help of the Montenegrin goalkeeper. Montenegro also missed a penalty kick.
Romania thus ended 2018 without losing a single game. Serbia won the fourth group and was promoted to Nations League B. For their performance Serbia has also secured a place in the 2020 European Championship playoffs. In case Serbia manages to secure qualification during the 2020 European Championship preliminaries, Romania will automatically be drawn in the playoffs.
The only Romanian club that played in European inter-club competitions this year was FCSB. The Romanian vice-champions played in the Europa League round of 32, and were eventually ousted by Italy’s Lazio, after winning 1-nil at home and losing 1-5 in Rome.
CFR Cluj won the 2017-2018 domestic championship. In the final standings, CFR ranked first with 50 points, followed by FCSB with 49 points and Universitatea Craiova with 38 points. The Romanian Cup trophy went to Craiova, who defeated FC Hermannstadt in the final 2-nil.
Therefore Romania had a total of four teams qualified for European competitions. CFR Cluj played in the Champions League, while FCSB, Universitatea Craiova and Viitorul Constanta played in the Europa League preliminaries.
CFR Cluj had a poor run in the 2018-2019 edition of the Champions League. In the second preliminary round, Cluj lost nil-1 to Sweden’s Malmo at home and then drew 1-all away from home. Cluj then defeated Armenia’s Alashkert 2-nil in the first leg played away from home, then 5-nil in the second leg at home. In the second preliminary round, CFR Cluj lost to Dudelange of Luxembourg, nil-2 away from home and 2-3 at home.
Romanian Cup title holders Universitatea Craiova was drawn straight into the Europa League third preliminary round, where it took on Germany’s RB Leipzig. The German side won 3-1 in the first leg at home, and drew 1-all in the match played in Craiova.
Viitorul Constanta played in the first preliminary round of Europa League, defeating Luxembourg’s Racing 2-nil away from home and nil-all on home turf. In the second preliminary round, Gheorghe Hagi’s trainees were ousted by the Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem. In the first leg Viitorul drew 2-all after leading 2-nil. In the return leg Vitesse won 3-1.
Vice-champions FCSB had the longest run in Europa League. First the Romanian team ousted Slovenian champions Rudar Velenje. Nicolae Dica’s trainees won 2-nil in the first leg in Slovenia and 4-nil in Bucharest. In the next Romania FCSB knocked out Hajduk Split, nil-all and 2-1 at home. In the playoff, FCSB took on Rapid Vienna of Austria, which turned out a tough nut to crack. In the first leg Rapid won 3-1 at home. In the return leg played in Bucharest, FCSB won 2-1, in front of a 30-thousand-strong crowd, but that was not enough to secure qualification.