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After 47 years of trying, FC Oţelul Galaţi won their first Romanian First Division title last season. For coach Dorinel Munteanu, however, the hard work is only just beginning.
Upon being crowned champions in mid-May, Galaţi said they would "only realise what we have achieved when we play in the UEFA Champions League". With the draw for the group stage taking place next month, that prospect is drawing ever closer. Munteanu, for one, is all too aware that the club cannot afford to rest on their laurels if they are to make an impact on the game's biggest platform.
"To qualify for the Champions League means a lot to me, the players, the fans and the people of Galati," he said. "It's the result of our work but in reality the challenge is only just starting. This is the real examination which the players, the coach, the club's board of directors and the entire city have to face – we're taking part in the most important club competition in the world. Our goal is to get a good result, make Romania proud of us, and gain respect."
As it is, respect for the club is not in short supply thanks to an approach to the sport which president Marius Stan feels has stood them in good stead. "We are a small and honest club who have never deviated from the rules of fair play," he said. "I've always thought that when your chance comes, you can win by being honest, straightforward and correct. To try any other way would, in my opinion, violate the basic principles of life.
"The club is built on a foundation like any other building – stone by stone, brick by brick. We didn't rush anything, we had a project. The most important thing for us was to lay the foundations of a robust and healthy club. We manage everything with our own resources, we have built training facilities for children and young people, and this is regarded as a model for the whole country."
Stan can barely contain his anticipation: "Every time I hear that [UEFA Champions League] music, I can feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. We are actors in this great show." Captain Sergiu Costin is equally relishing what lies ahead. "For us it's the Everest of football," said the defender. "It's the most important competition in the world; it's a honour to be there. To play at the highest level is every footballer's dream."
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