"They go into the game against Middlesbrough in second place in Divizia A, two points adrift of city rivals Dinamo Bucharest, but with a couple of games in hand"
Although unlikely to ever scale the heights of the great team of the late 1980s, the current Steaua Bucharest side have certainly put the club back on the European football map with their UEFA Cup exploits this season.
Steaua became the first Eastern European club to win the European Cup in 1986, when beating Barcelona 2:0 on penalties in Sevilla after a less than enthralling 0:0 draw. The hero of the hour was goalkeeper Helmut Ducadam, who saved all four penalties in the shoot-out to thwart the Catalans and their coach, one Terry Venables esquire. They even reached a second final two years later, only to go down 4:0 to AC Milan. Even so, this was undoubtedly the golden era for the club, with the team embarking on an unbeaten run of 104 Romanian league matches from the start of the 1986-87 season to September 1989.
However, the overthrow and execution of President Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife on Christmas Day 1989 was bad news for Ceaucescu’s favourite club (although probably not as bad as it was for Ceaucescu himself), who were no longer able to pick and choose the top domestic talent as they had done before. Although the club have continued to be a force in Romania since the fall of communism, they have never been as dominant and last season saw them collect their first domestic title since 2001.
Their European campaign this season started way back in July with a 0:0 draw away to Shelbourne in the 2nd qualifying round of the Champions League but, after winning the return 4:1, they were then knocked out 4:3 on aggregate by Rosenborg and consigned to the UEFA Cup as a result. Since then they have managed to overcome the likes of Valerenga, Lens, Sampdoria, Hertha Berlin, Heerenveen, Real Betis and Rapid Bucharest to reach the semi-finals.
The current squad may lack the star names of yesteryear such as Gheorge Hagi, Marius Lacatus (now club president), Miodrag Belodedici, Anghel Iordenescu and Ducadam, but they have some fine players in the likes of captain Mirel Radoi, midfielder Banel Nicolita and striker Nicolae Dica. It’s also a squad made up almost entirely of domestic players, with the only exception being DR Congo goalkeeper Carlos Alberto Fernandes.
They go into the game against Middlesbrough in second place in Divizia A, two points adrift of city rivals Dinamo Bucharest, but with a couple of games in hand. Another domestic title should be well within their capabilities, but to reach another major European final in the present era and without the aid of a barking mad national president would be a real achievement.
19 April 2006