Romanians have not seen their country at a FIFA World Cup for a decade, and if the current squad want a ticket to South Africa in 2010 they will have to emerge victorious from one of the qualifying round's most challenging groups.
Romania finished above the Netherlands to get to UEFA EURO 2008™, before a defeat by the Oranje ended their campaign in the group phase in Austria and Switzerland. However, to earn a trip to South Africa, Victor Piţurcă's side must not only get the better of another EURO opponent, France, but also of Serbia and Austria, not to mention Lithuania and the Faroe Islands this Saturday and next Wednesday respectively.
Piţurcă picked out France as "big favourites" in the section, but denied that his team would merely be aiming for a play-off spot by finishing runners-up behind Les Bleus. "We will fight for first place," insisted the 52-year-old, whose charges drew 0-0 with France in their opening game at June's UEFA European Championship. "In this sense, it is the same situation as in qualification for EURO 2008. The Netherlands were the big favourites, we seemed to be challenging more for second place, but in the end we came first. Why shouldn't it happen again?"
Romania's footballing star is in the ascendancy with two clubs, CFR 1907 Cluj and FC Steaua Bucureşti, having reached the UEFA Champions League group stage – and Cluj's CFR Stadium will stage Saturday's visit of Lithuania. However, Romania be without Cristian Chivu, Adrian Mutu and Răzvan Raţ through injury, while winger Florentin Petre has been omitted for logistical reasons. Because Petre played for FC Terek Grozny at FC Luch-Energia Vladivostok last Sunday, it was decided the trip from the far east of Russia would leave him too tired to be fully fit.
Despite the absentees, Piţurcă sounded confident his side's collective force could compensate for the loss of any individual. "I have stated several times that our team must not rely on one, two or three players. Our main strength has to be the unit, because at any given time one player or another could be missing. Now we are in just such a situation, and we will have to overcome it and take all six points from our first two matches to ease the pressure before our third game against France."
Though a brief appearance, Piţurcă felt his side's participation in Austria and Switzerland – their first major tournament in eight years – would stand them in good stead for the World Cup qualifiers. "The experience gained at the EURO is very useful," he said. "For me and for almost all the players, this was the first big championship of our careers. We played very well in the first two matches, [draws against] France and Italy, and it's a pity we couldn't convert our chances in the last group game against Holland. However, we proved our ability and now, even without four key players, we have to keep on trying to improve ourselves."