Romania already has reason to celebrate on 1 December – Unification Day, a national holiday – but may have further cause for joy if FC Vaslui can continue a remarkable record when they host S.S. Lazio in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
A modest side from one of the poorest of Romania's 42 counties, the Yellow-Greens are yet to lose in ten UEFA competition home games, and should a win against Lazio coincide with FC Zürich dropping points at Sporting Clube de Portugal, Vaslui would be through to the round of 32. It would be a major coup given Bucharest will stage the final on 9 May 2012.
"People talk about the home record but that doesn't mean we play any differently away," said the team's 64-year-old boss Viorel Hizo, himself unbeaten in 19 UEFA home matches as coach of FC Inter Sibiu, FC Rapid Bucureşti and Vaslui. "We might have taken more points, or dropped some elsewhere, but our attitude has always been the same."
Former FIFA referee turned agricultural magnate Adrian Porumboiu has invested in the club he founded in 2002 – they were promoted to Romania's top flight three years later and have played in Europe every season since 2008/09. Yet Vaslui's success this term has come despite severe personnel problems: Dušan Kuciak and Stanislav Ghenchev chose to leave last summer while Paul Papp, Gabriel Cânu, Silviu Bălace, Willian Gerlem and Richard Annang have all spent time on the injured list since Vaslui's campaign began in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round.
"We have proved to be a very united team, with fantastic character," explained Hizo. "
Believe me, what we have achieved this season in the UEFA Europa League is a miracle, more than we dared dream of in the circumstances. Look at our opponents, the players they have and the budgets. The fact we are competing shows our players' total commitment and spirit of sacrifice."
Already this campaign, AC Sparta Praha, in the play-offs, and Sporting, in Group D, have joined the ranks of notables to have got no change out of Vaslui in Romania – even though the club have been forced to play European home games in Piatra Neamt, 100km away from their stadium. Lazio look like bigger fish yet having been held to a 2-2 draw by Vaslui in Rome, they may travel with some trepidation.
Hizo certainly hopes his side have another surprise up their sleeves as they are again deprived of a key man. "I trust my players to show the same attitude, but don't forget we will be without our captain Wesley, who is suspended, and that our opponents are Lazio," he said. "Still, we dared to dream of a fantastic autumn, and it could yet turn into a wonderful winter."
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