With two teams paired in today's UEFA Cup quarter-final draw, Romanian sides are enjoying their best season in European football since 1988/89.
AFC Rapid Bucuresti will take on FC Steaua Bucuresti in the quarter-finals following the draw at the Evoluon centre in Eindhoven. It could be the highlight of a fine European season for Divizia A sides. However, back in 1988/89, Romanian clubs were celebrating an even better season as three local sides claimed places in the quarter-finals of the three major UEFA competitions.
FC Victoria Bucuresti reached the last eight of the UEFA Cup, FC Dinamo Bucuresti progressed to the same stage in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup while Steaua, who had won the competition in 1985/86, went all the way to the final of the European Champion Clubs' Cup, losing 4-0 against AC Milan in Barcelona.
Traditionally, Steaua and Dinamo have been the two powerhouses of Romanian football. Aside from their two European Champion Clubs' Cup final appearances, Steaua reached the semi-finals of the same competition in 1987/88 and the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1971/72 and 1992/93.
Dinamo earned a European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-final appearance in 1983/84 and played in the last four of the 1989/90 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. The only other sides to reach such high levels in European competition were 1982/83 UEFA Cup semi-finalists FC Universitatea Craiova, the now-defunct Victoria and now Rapid.
Founded in 1923, initially as a railway workers club, Rapid were regarded as the team of the oppressed before the 1989 revolution in Romania. They won just one league title before the fall of communism, in 1967, but picked up eight Romanian Cups and reached the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup quarter-finals in 1972/73.
Since the revolution, the club has received a major overhaul. With wealthy businessman George Copos having taken charge, Rapid won league titles in 1998/99 and 2002/03 as well as two Romanian Cups and three Super Cups. However, Romanian success had not been transformed into European success until now.
The 37-year-old coach Razvan Lucescu, son of FC Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu, has been the architect of this achievement. Dedicated and wise beyond his years, the young schemer has created a strong team ethic at Rapid which has allowed some fine individual players to shine. Daniel Niculae, Marius Maldarasanu and Danut Coman have all impressed while Mugurel Buga has scored nine UEFA Cup goals since his side entered the tournament in the first qualifying round back in July 2005.
And despite still competing for honours on three fronts - the UEFA Cup, Romanian Cup and Divizia A - Rapid are not running out of steam. They have yet to concede a goal in their seven UEFA Cup home games so far and have beaten the likes of Feyenoord, Shakhtar and Hamburger SV, all of whom dwarf them in terms of finances.
Indeed, the club have faced financial problems in the course of their campaign, with players complaining about unpaid wages and bonuses, while Lucescu was dismissed by Copos for 12 hours but quickly reappointed under pressure from fans, players and the club's executive president Dinu Gheorghe.
Under such circumstances, Lucescu believes his side has showed what they are made of, saying he was "impressed by the commitment all the players have shown in all of their matches". With a relentless schedule now demanding that Rapid play a match every three days until the end of the season, Herculean endurance will be demanded.
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