He has again captained Romania to the last eight of a UEFA Futsal EURO, and now Robert Lupu is heading into the Tricolorii's encounter with Russia in optimistic mood, heartened by the way his team performed against the same opponents in qualifying.
The 31-year-old is playing in his third continental finals, having featured at Portugal 2007 and then led Romania to their first knockout stage participation five years later in Croatia, where their campaign ended in an 8-3 loss to Spain. Now – for the second time in less than 12 months – they face the side the holders defeated in the last final.
Lupu was in the starting five that stung Russia inside 70 seconds in a main round fixture last March, only for Sergei Skorovich's men to respond through Sergei Sergeev and Aleksandr Fukin. The way Romania measured up to the 1999 winners has given Lupu and his squad-mates hope for Monday's assignment at the Sportpaleis.
Speaking to UEFA.com after training for the first time at the venue, which is hosting the rest of the competition following the staging of the 12 group matches at the Lotto Arena, he said: "It was a good tactical game for Romania and it is one we can take a lot of confidence from. We can certainly think positively going into the tie.
"The team is in good physical shape and we are very happy to be in the quarter-finals – that was our objective. If futsal can provide us with more happiness in the future, perhaps even in this game, it will be very good for us."
The City'US Târgu Mureş forward scored in Romania's 6-1 defeat of Belgium last Tuesday, a result Nelu Stancea's men followed up with a 1-0 loss to Ukraine, a setback that ultimately caused them to finish runners-up in Group A.
"We performed very well tactically in our two games," he explained. "In the first match our objective was to win, which we did, and in the second we wanted a draw. We didn't get it, but maybe we were unlucky."
Russia, inspired by four-goal adidas Golden Boot leader Eder Lima, showcased their attacking talent while scoring 11 times against the Netherlands (7-1) and Portugal (4-4). For their part Romania conceded just twice in the group stage, looking relatively solid throughout, but Lupu knows they cannot let their guard drop.
"We must defend very well and concentrate for 100% of the time, for the full 40 minutes – we can't lose our focus even for one second," he said when asked what the key will be to overcoming Russia. "This is what separates the great teams from the good ones."
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