Ciprian Tătăruşanu's penalty shoot-out heroics helped FC Steaua Bucureşti eliminate UEFA Europa League final hosts AFC Ajax in the round of 32, but a tougher test now awaits the tall Romania goalkeeper.
European champions Chelsea FC visit Bucharest for Thursday's last-16 first leg, looking to forge on towards a clean sweep of major UEFA trophies, but for all of the Blues' firepower, the 27-year-old Tătăruşanu is staying remarkably calm. "Sure, it will be much harder than a game against a top Romanian side – we are talking about 'Europe's queen' – and I have no doubt I will have much more work to do than against a 'normal' European team," he said. "As we proved in the two games against Ajax, we can be a match for anyone, no matter who they are."
On paper, this clash of one-time European Cup winners is a mismatch, something Tătărușanu acknowledges. "Chelsea are a better team [than Ajax] – they are the UEFA Champions League holders so they are obviously the stronger team," said the custodian. However, he maintains he will not be nervous come kick-off. "Before every game – regardless of the competition – I don't feel any pressure on me. All I focus on are positive thoughts, which help me take a serious and professional approach to each match, and be focused for every second."
Expectation in Bucharest is high, with Steaua having reached the last 16 of a European competition for the first time since 2005/06, when they made it to the UEFA Cup semi-finals – losing out to a last-ditch, second leg goal at Middlesbrough FC. However, having watched plenty of Premier League football, Tătăruşanu hopes his side can get the measure of Chelsea and advance at their expense.
"I have noticed something interesting," he said. "Even though the Premier League has some of the most skilful players in the world, the teams still base their game on free-kicks and corners. These create enormous excitement among English fans – foreign fans watching matches in the UK will notice how corners prompt celebrations in the stands. As a goalkeeper, I understand this and will do my best to avoid conceding goals."
Helmuth Duckadam's example continues to inspire Steaua goalkeepers – now the club's president, he stopped four penalties as Steaua beat FC Barcelona 2-0 on spot kicks to lift the 1986 European Cup. Chelsea may be daunting opponents, yet that success in Seville stands as testament to the game's unpredictable nature. "Chelsea have more skilful individuals but we are a very solid group," said Tătăruşanu. "Chelsea are the favourites but we all know that football is unpredictable and anything is possible."
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