|B||Dinamo Zagreb||Chornomorets Odesa|
CS Pandurii Târgu Jiu may not be blessed with the infrastructure, facilities and fan base to match some of Romanian football's more established names, but their unwavering team spirit should stand them in good stead during Thursday's Group E opener at home to FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Founded in 1962, the club from Targu Jiu have made significant strides since taking their place in the top flight for the first time in 2005. Having twice wriggled free of the relegation noose, Pandurii turned heads in 2011/12 as coach Petre Grigoraș led them to seventh place. They then eclipsed that feat 12 months later under the stewardship of former CS Gaz Metan Mediaş boss Cristian Pustai, finishing second to clinch a European berth for the first time in their history.
For a club that had become synonymous with upsetting the odds, it came as little surprise when they emerged from the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round by edging out Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC 3-2 on aggregate. Better was to come in the play-offs, though, as Pustai's charges overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit against SC Braga by posting a remarkable 2-0 victory in Portugal after extra time.
Much of Pandurii's success can be attributed to their shrewd dealings in the transfer market. Indeed, players have been picked up at bargain prices and sold for considerable profit, including Romania captain Vlad Chiricheş, who was snapped up by FC Steaua Bucureşti before sealing a move to Tottenham Hotspur FC this summer. Meanwhile, VfB Stuttgart snared attacking midfielder Alexandru Maxim for €1.5m, Dan Nistor left for Évian Thonon Gaillard FC and versatile defender Vlad Alexandru joined Dnipro.
Moving in the opposite direction, a raft of foreign imports, including captain Paraskevas Christou and midfielder Nicandro Breeveld, have swelled Pandurii's talented ranks, while 27-year-old playmaker Eric Pereira has set pulses racing since he arrived from Gaz Metan. Brazilian-born Eric has applied for Romanian citizenship after spending six years in the country with an international call-up a possibility one day.
"Everyone is confident," said Eric, after Pandurii warmed up for Thursday's historic encounter with Dnipro by defeating FC Dinamo Bucureşti 2-1. "Nobody gave us a chance before the qualifying rounds but we did it. Why shouldn't we be confident and dream of reaching the knockout stages?"
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