FC Steaua Bucureşti may be treading a well-worn path through the UEFA Champions League qualifiers but there is nothing tired about their attitude towards the competition.
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Throughout the history of Romanian football, FC Steaua Bucureşti have been making things look easy. With the highest number of league titles (24), Romanian Cups (21) and Super Cups (6), not to mention Romania's only European trophy, Steaua's success has appeared effortless at times.
However, the 1985/86 European Champion Clubs' Cup winners and 1989 runners-up can never be accused of enjoying a comfortable ride in Europe. Since the 1993/94 season, when they reached the second round, the club have had to negotiate the qualifying rounds in every one of their subsequent 11 UEFA Champions League campaigns (this one included). Six of those qualification attempts have resulted in group stage appearances.
They could argue they have been dealt a rough hand, in that their endless perseverance has helped maintain Romania's coefficient, enabling the likes of CFR 1907 Cluj (2008/09, 2010/11), FC Unirea Urziceni (2009/10) and FC Oțelul Galați (2011/12) to cruise directly into the group stage – a privilege never afforded to Steaua themselves.
This season they are again battling through qualifying, seeing off FK Vardar and FC Dinamo Tbilisi to earn a play-off with Legia Warszawa over the next two weeks, and those hard-fought campaigns of the past are providing inspiration. "We have spoken about the performances of the past which honour the club, and about our predecessors who have given Steaua such great European memories," coach Laurenţiu Reghecampf said. "We hope from the bottom of our hearts to get to the end of August and qualify for the Champions League group stage."
Steaua have put together long runs in the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Cup in recent years, contesting the semi-finals in 2005/06 and the round of 16 last term, but ambitious captain Alexandru Bourceanu has eyes only for the UEFA Champions League.
"We speak about history and about the qualifications achieved more recently by very good Steaua teams of the last decade," said the 28-year-old midfielder. "Nevertheless, if we don't manage to qualify for the Champions League group stage, reaching the Europa League will still feel like a disappointment. For me, failing to get to the group stage would mean that 2013 has been a poor year – despite us winning the league, the Super Cup and going far in the Europa League. We have a huge desire to qualify, especially as it would be the first time for all our current players."