România / Romania
- Capital: Bucharest / București
- Official Languages: Romanian
- Nicknames: Tricolorii (The Tricolours)
- Association: Federația Română de Fotbal (FRF)
- FIFA Code: ROU
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Quarter Finals (1994)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Quarter Finals (2000)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 3rd (September 1997)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 31st (May 2006)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 57th (February 2011, September 2012)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 44th (June 2020)
- Most Capped Player: Dorinel Munteanu – 134 caps
- Top Scorer: Gheorghe Hagi & Adrian Mutu – 35 goals
Romania is situated on the eastern side of the European continent, on the western shores of the Black Sea. They have an extensive history within international football with their Football Association being founded in 1909, and then joining FIFA in 1923. They are also one of just four European teams to have competed in the first ever World Cup in 1930 held in Uruguay, as have competed in all three pre-war World Cup tournaments. Sadly Romania’s appearances in future tournaments would be fleeting with just an appearance in the 1970 World Cup, and at the 1984 European Championships being their only times of qualifying for major tournaments. This situation would change for the better in their golden era of the 1990s when they qualified for three successive World Cups between 1990 and 1998. Inspired by the mercurial Gheorghe Hagi, they reached the Round of 16 in 1990 and 1998, and reached the quarter-finals in the 1994 World Cup – their best ever World Cup performance! They also reached the quarter-finals of the 2000 European Championships before losing to eventual finalists Italy 0-2 in Brussels.
Alas the fortunes of Romania have not been as successful in the 21st century with the nation only qualifying for the 2008 and 2016 European Championships, and not even progressing from the group stage at either appearance. They have most recently failed to qualify for the 2020/21 European Championships when they lost 1-2 to Iceland in the semi-finals of the Path A qualification playoffs. Nonetheless, the Romanians are still within the second-tier of the UEFA Nations League, and will be looking to gain promotion to the top-tier in the next Nations League tournament, as well as potentially qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. They are in a very favourable group which could potentially see them progress to the World Cup or at least claim a playoff spot.
Talking about the Tricolorii, who were one of the stars of 1990s and 2000s international football but have since seen their fortunes drop somewhat, is Romanian Football. An excellent Twitter account which focuses on all things involving Romanian football, whether it be Romanian players playing abroad, the goings-on in the Romanian Liga I, or the national team, it’s all covered by them. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @RoFtbl
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
For Romania, the best-ever player is regularly debated among the generations, and it’s normally between three main players – Gheorghe Hagi (1983 to 2000), Nicolae Dobrin (1966 to 1980) and Ilie Balaci (1974 to 1986). Most nowadays will say Hagi, and I have to say that in a lot ways that is true. He had the biggest impact on our football, both as a player by lifting the national team to its greatest ever achievements in the 1990s through to Euro 2000, and also as a club owner now of Liga 1 club Viitorul Constanta and his academy.
Talent wise, many older generations will claim Dobrin and Balaci as they were phenomenal in their days and helped their clubs in Europe, but were unlucky in the national team (also partly due to their lifestyle). Dobrin was benched by Angelo Niculescu at the 1970 World Cup for disciplinary reasons, and Balaci missed out of the 1984 European Championships due to an injury. Additionally, Balaci was meant to go to AC Milan and Dobrin to Real Madrid, but neither had the chance that Hagi got, due to the communist government restricting transfers abroad.
The greatest Romanian manager of all time is undoubtedly Mircea Lucescu – he is one of the most decorated managers of all time, gave players like Andrea Pirlo their debut, won the UEFA Cup in 2009 with Shakhtar Donetsk, and was involved in the culture of bringing and developing many Brazilians at the club. Ștefan Kovács may have a shout with two European Cups and 1 Intercontinental Cup with Ajax but Lucescu’s 35 or so trophies, long and distinguished career, helping many players and clubs alike and changing their path altogether is something special in my opinion.
So to summarize, while there is some reasonable debate here, it has to be Gheorghe Hagi and Mircea Lucescu for #1.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Hmm cult heroes… honestly, there are quite a few special talents that have stood-out over the years while not reaching their best career potential due to discipline issues / bad decisions, injuries, being one dimensional, etc. However there is one name that clearly stands out in the last 20 years – Lucian Sânmărtean.
He was a player who was truly idolized for his silky dribbling ability, he played for fun but didn’t put the greatest effort in his career, and also got involved in a bad situation at Panathinaikos. Still, former Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur and Dutch goalkeeper, Michel Vorm, put him in his all-time XI of teammates from their time together at FC Utrecht, ahead of the likes of Christian Eriksen, which speaks a lot of his talent.
Another consideration might be Constantin Budescu – lazy, generally unfit for modern football, constantly joking , loveable character who was nonetheless another special talent. He helped Astra Giurgiu eliminate sides like West Ham United in the UEFA Europa League and a few goals in his limited international appearances. Great free kicks and creativity, but a lazy player.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Romania currently?
We are currently in a major transition period with a new, inexperienced manager who nonetheless helped us reach the semi-finals of the U21 Euros in 2019, Mirel Rădoi. We have some of that younger generation coming through slowly, and surely more of them will get their chance over the coming 1-2 years as we look to only keep a few of the old guard in.
As Milan’s goalkeeper Ciprian Tătărușanu has just retired from international duty, and Lazio defender Ștefan Radu hasn’t played for us since 2013… I would say Răzvan Marin [currently on-loan at Cagliari from Ajax] is the best, followed by Alexandru Maxim [at Gaziantep] and Vlad Chiriches [playing for Sassuolo].
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
As I mentioned previously, I would describe us as a team in transition. I do believe in Rădoi and what he wants to build, despite his inexperience and rocky start. From what I have seen, his ideas and mentality give me more hope than some of the previously stubborn managers who failed to change anything and didn’t believe we could play nice football and still win matches, even when we had many gifted skillful players to do just that. We have had too many over-cautious managers who have made poor squad selections and didn’t seem to have much tactical ideas.
Our performances in the last year has been horrible, even with the many players missing due to COVID pandemic and injuries. But I believe that in the next year or so, we can improve a fair bit.
Q. Are there any Romanian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There is a really good crop of players coming through both at U21 and U19 level right now. Some will surely not fulfil their expected potential, but there is a good deal of a hope that we can, at least, do better than the last decade, which was terrible for us. Some of the most interesting names at the moment for me include:
- Ionuț Radu (GK, 23, Inter; though he needs to start playing again)
- Radu Drăgușin (CB, 18, Juventus)
- Cătălin Cîrjan (AM/CM, 18, Arsenal)
- Valentin Mihăilă (LW, 20, Parma)
- Dennis Man (RW, 22, Parma)
- Ianis Hagi (AM/RW, 22, Rangers)
- Alex Cicâldău (CM, 23, Craiova)
- Olimpiu Moruțan (AM/RW, 21, FCSB)
- Florinel Coman (LW, 22, FCSB)
- Octavian Popescu (RW/AM, 18, FCSB)
- Louis Munteanu (ST, 18, Fiorentina)
Picking the most exciting of these, I would say is 18 year-old centre-back Radu Drăgușin as he’s already played for Juventus’ first-team a few times this season, getting a 20 minute debut in the UEFA Champions League and starting twice in the Coppa Italia (a particularly solid performance against Genoa in the previous round).
Q. Looking at Romania’s long international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
The best game would have to surely be the 3-2 win over Argentina in the Round of 16 at World Cup 1994. One of the best World Cup games in history according to many people. It was brilliant stuff, and we played so great as a team, such beautiful football.
Another contender might be the wins over England at World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000, the win over Colombia at World Cup 94 with Hagi’s fantastic chip goal from out wide and some great actions, the qualifying win over Italy in 1983 with László Bölöni’s spectacular goal, Euro 2008 qualifying win over Netherlands, or the 5-1 friendly win over Germany in 2004, although it’s definitely the first choice though, in my opinion.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Definitely our 0-1 loss to Albania at Euro 2016… most of our players didn’t seem to care and our manager was tactically clueless. A poor generation in general despite that seemingly good start against France…
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Romanian national team?
The best thing about the national team is the memories of what we used to do on the international stage, and the moments of flair and exciting football. The worst thing is that it usually doesn’t last, with players in recent years having mentality issues and inconsistent performances, the national team managers have been mostly clueless in tactics and selections, and the many years of frustration of watching poor / limited football in the national team, knowing we should be doing a lot better. And also missing out on yet another final tournament… (we have only qualified for Euro 2000, Euro 2008, and Euro 2016 in this century!! Even though we’ve come very close, it’s still embarrassing!)
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
I don’t know anymore but they used to play ‘Ciuleandra‘ by Maria Tanase (a singer and national icon of the 20th century in Romania) after the goals. However, players and fans sometimes sing “Romaniaaaa, Romaniiiiaaaa, olé, olé, olé!“, but usually only when we win in a competition / cup / qualifying, which is rare nowadays. 😦
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
Yes, the shirt from Euro 2008 which was the first final tournament that I watched live, and I wore the same shirt. The shirts from World Cup 1994, Euro 2000, and the red shirt of 2010 are also nice ones after that.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Romanian national team?
I have high hopes that even with many controversial owners doing terrible things with the clubs in the country, and lowering the level of the league, we still have a chance with this upcoming generation to make waves if they are serious and focused players, unlike in recent generations. We also have Hagi, who is one of the better owners, and even Gigi Becali (despite all the nonsense he does with FCSB; instability, pressure on young players, etc.) still invests in the club.
But we need more clubs to follow. The new FA has implemented U21 rules in the league and other ideas to promote academy development and investment at least, but at a cost of European competitiveness. I am still hopeful for some of these more seriously determined players already abroad (or leaving soon) to change our fortunes for the national team in years to come!
A massive mulțumesc foarte mult to Romanian Football for answering our questions on the Tricolorii. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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