Nelu Stancea stepped up to become Romania coach from his previous role as assistant when Sito Rivera quit to take the Hungary job on the eve of the UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 play-offs in August. On 28 January he will lead the team against hosts Belgium on the opening day of the finals in Antwerp.
Stancea oversaw impressive 2-1 and 7-2 wins against fellow EURO 2012 quarter-finalists Serbia in the play-offs, thus guiding Romania to their third showpiece with a squad familiar from those past appearances in 2007 and two years ago. As they approach the tight Group A, also involving Ukraine, Stancea spoke to UEFA.com about their preparations and chances.
UEFA.com: This is Romania's third finals and most of the players have been together more than ten years since the national team were formed. What does this mean?
Nelu Stancea: It means we cannot talk about a lack of experience and that we should qualify at least for the quarter-finals. On the other hand, looking at all four groups in the tournament, we can see that our group has something special.
Group A is the only one in which any of the three teams could finish first, second or third. Normally, we would be slight favourites, even if it would be a bit of an exaggeration to speak about being favourites. We have never played a competitive match against Belgium, but we have a better record against them in friendly games, while we dramatically lost against Ukraine in the last play-offs for the FIFA Futsal World Cup and the overall direct record is even.
UEFA.com: What about the other groups?
Stancea: Russia, Italy and Spain should win their groups and they are the main favourites for the title, while the race is open for second place in each of their groups.
UEFA.com: What, realistically speaking, would be Romania's highest target?
Stancea: We really want to perform at the highest level. This is the reason why we prepare and why we compete: to give our best and to reach our highest level. Of course, we would love to be champions or get to the final, but realistically speaking, being ranked among the top six or making the semis would be extraordinary. However, in our group anything can happen, so we have to get past the group stage first.
UEFA.com: Any problems with the squad?
Stancea: Thank God, everybody is available. On 9 January we started our preparations and we chose to play only three friendlies against Romanian clubs in order to avoid any major injuries.
UEFA.com: Unusually the squad is spread between different clubs, whereas your previous squads were dependent on first FC CIP Deva and then City'Us Târgu Mureș. Is this a positive?
Stancea: It is better to have players at several clubs. Anyway, they have all been playing together with the national team for over ten years. Besides, by having the best players split between City'Us, Autobergamo Deva and even Futsal Klub Odorheiu Secuiesc, the league has improved and become more competitive than in the past, when one team was winning everything. Now the competition is even and offers me the opportunity to select more players. Regardless of the outcome in Belgium, this will be a turning point in the future of our national team.
UEFA.com: Does that mean that several players will drop out of the squad in the years to come?
Stancea: Not at all. I have told the squad that, in the near future, with having more good players at our disposal, we will rotate them for friendlies, meaning three or four of the current lot will miss the odd friendly. This will allow me to test other players, but the absent ones will be back for the next friendly, which others will miss.
UEFA.com: And for competitive matches?
Stancea: You can imagine that we will rely on the same established players, but it is also logical that any new and outstanding players will automatically be in the squad. Actually, after the play-off against Serbia we already started this process and I hope that, with the league having improved, we will always have alternatives for the national team.
UEFA.com: Any nerves in the squad?
Stancea: No – like I said, this will be our third EURO. Now we are used to international level, it is a huge pleasure and an honour to be involved and we are going for it.
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