Ionuţ Năstăsie is reflecting on "the best days of my life" despite Romania's early exit from the UEFA European Under-19 Championship.
The Romania captain was among the hosts' most impressive performers in their three Group A games and, although evidently disappointed with how the tournament has turned out - Romania were eliminated with a draw and two defeats - the forward believes there have been plenty of positives over the last few weeks. "It's not been a very good tournament for us in terms of results but this European championship has been an extraordinary experience for us," Năstăsie told UEFA.com.
Not surprisingly, the hosts' three games all drew sizeable crowds, and that vocal backing will be one of Năstăsie's most cherished memories. "Playing at home in a tournament like this is the best feeling ever," he said. "We had big crowds and they really gave us great support, so we have to thank them for that. I've not really played in front of crowds like that before so it's been wonderful, and I'm really sad we weren't able to make them happy. The crowd made a big difference, they've really helped us."
The FC Steaua Bucureşti forward was a lively influence in his three finals outings, constantly cajoling his team-mates to great effort as befits his role in the side. "Being captain of your country in a European championship is a big honour and a big responsibility," he explained. "My team-mates really helped me, and I think I did well overall. I've tried to lift everyone and keep them focused. I tried to help the team all the time as captain; I encouraged them by the power of example and talked to them a lot."
While modestly downplaying his own contribution – "That's for others to say" – Năstăsie showed no such reticence as he looks back on his recent experience. "
These have been the best days of my life and my most important time as a footballer," he said. "These have been the biggest games all of this squad have played in; the country has been relying on us and it's been a fantastic time for us at this tournament."
Having come to the end of his U19 experience, Năstăsie is now turning his attentions back to Steaua, where he spent 2010/11 in the second team. "It was a difficult season; we lost a lot of good players after the first half of the season, which left us with a very young team and we ended up getting relegated to the third division, so it was a struggle for us," he said.
"I don't know what will happen next season, but I'm hoping to push into the first team," he added. "I know I need to improve a lot but I've already been involved in some tournaments and trained with them. It's a great feeling to do that. They're a big team with some very good players – I need to show them I deserve to be there more often, so I must work very hard."
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