After a rigorous winter training camp, FC Steaua Bucureşti return to action ready for the challenge at home and abroad with coach Ilie Stan pinpointing their tie against FC Twente as a potentially season-defining moment.
This year's UEFA Europa League concludes in Bucharest and Steaua are Romania's only remaining representatives in the competition. Stan is not looking too far ahead, though. "Let's not speak about playing in the final," he told UEFA.com. "
Who wouldn't want to play at home in a major final? But let's take it step by step. First we have to overcome Twente, which means two crucial matches with a major impact on the short-term future of our team."
Indeed, Stan feels the round of 32 engagement with Twente, which starts on Thursday at the same National Arena that will hold the final, will set the tone for what follows this season. "At Steaua, as at most clubs, it is not easy to speak about the long term," added the 44-year-old. "So I regard the two legs versus Twente as crucial for what will come in the second half of our campaign.
"Of course it will affect what we go on to achieve, but the first step is the closest and most important," continued Stan, whose charges sit fourth in Romania's First Division, eight points off city rivals and leaders FC Dinamo Bucureşti. "I am completely focused on these two games because they mean so much."
Stan certainly laid down a marker during Steaua's two-month winter break. Ten days of exclusively physical training in the Carpathian mountains preceded two weeks of friendlies in Antalya. Despite the recent harsh weather in continental Europe, Stan decided to bring the squad back on schedule rather than extend their time in Turkey.
"After the long training camps, the players needed to readapt to our weather and the conditions the match will be played in," explained Stan, who took the reins in September and guided Steaua to second place in UEFA Europa League Group J. "Of course we haven't got the most ideal training conditions. But I am sure we will overcome the cold weather thanks to our fantastic fans who will generate plenty of heat."
The coach, a Steaua midfielder during their golden period of the late 1980s, is more concerned with preparing his side for Twente than with examining the opposition. "We don't need to speak too much about their strengths or weaknesses, because at the end of the day everything will depend on my players. Of course we have done our homework on them but the tie will be decided by the players, by their cleverness and commitment, by whether they apply what we talk about."
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