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December 4, 2020

Europa League: Local teams dream of Bucharest final

The prospect of a final on home turf (scheduled in Bucharest new National Arena stadium next May) is added motivation for Romania’s five UEFA Europa League hopefuls, though none need reminding they must first come through this Thursday’s play-offs, uefa.com comments.

Steaua, winner of the Champions League in 1986, will line up against PFC CSKA Sofia in Cluj-Napoca. CS Gaz Metan Medias, FC Dinamo Bucuresti and FC Vaslui are also in the mix but it is FC Rapid Bucuresti, emboldened by high-profile signings, who could lead the charge. The capture of Ciprian Deac on loan from FC Schalke 04 has supplemented the arrivals of Iulian Apostol, Dan Alexa and Romeo Surdu as Rapid adapt to life without PAOK FC-bound captain Costin Lazar.

The early signs are positive. Rapid have won two out of three this season and as he prepared for the trip to Poland to take on WKS Slask Wroclaw, coach Razvan Lucescu spoke of the “unique feeling” that playing at the New National Stadium would bring. They have to get their first, of course.

To complicate matters they, like Steaua, Gaz Metan (Cluj-Napoca) and Vaslui (Piatra Neamt) – the latter two because their home stadiums do not meet UEFA’s requirements – will be in unusual surrounds for their home leg, making the 1,100km round trip to Timisoara. Indeed, the only side with a home they can call their own is Dinamo Bucuresti, who came through a tough examination by NK Varazdin to book a similarly daunting-looking assignment against FC Vorskla Poltava, starting in Ukraine this week.

New coach Liviu Ciobotariu is taking nothing for granted. “Let’s not underestimate Vorskla Poltava,” said the former Romania defender. “They will be no walkover. On the contrary, they have very strong and aggressive players. We will have to be very cautious.” Dinamo have cause for optimism, however. Despite losing several squad members during the summer their experienced players have stepped up: Marius Niculae, Ionel Danciulescu and Catalin Munteanu have all been among the goals in a strong start to the campaign.

Dinamo are top of the embryonic table with three wins from three, including a 5-0 victory against a Gaz Metan team that confounded expectations by knocking out 1. FSV Mainz 05 on penalties in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round. They will be underdogs again for their play-off tie with FK Austria Wien, so too Vaslui as they seek to put UEFA Champions League third qualifying round defeat by FC Twente behind them against AC Sparta Praha.

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