With the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-offs fast approaching, Russia and Romania meet over the next two matches in a double-header of their own to determine who will advance from Group 1.
The two sides are locked together on 21 points with just a single defeat each from their eight games so far. They now meet in Botosani on Friday and St Petersburg on Tuesday to decide who will advance as section winners.
Romania coach Emil Sandoi is still smarting from the points his side dropped in losing to Latvia in October, and he is determined to put that behind them. "I'm so sorry about the 5-1 loss in Latvia, but regardless of that we would still have had to pay special attention to the games against Russia.
Both matches are vital for us and my players will give everything to win."
Sandoi will have to do without the injured Razvan Ochirosii, Constantin Gangioveanu and Paul Pârvulescu as well as his captain Gabriel Torje who has been called up to the senior side. While disappointed at losing such a key figure, there was pride at seeing one of his charges promoted to Răzvan Lucescu's squad.
"Gabriel Torje is the chief, the captain and the top scorer of this team. Of course I would have loved to have him here but it's an honour for him and for all of us that he has taken the big step up."
For Russia, FC Alania Vladikavkaz midfielder Georgi Gabulov is excited by the challenge after making his debut in the 2-1 win against Latvia last month. "These matches are crucial," said the 21-year-old.
First place is at stake and we have a sense of responsibility. I have to justify the coach's and the fans' trust and defend the honour of my country. You quickly mature and understand these things when you're in the national team."
Midfielder Yuri Kirillov and striker Aleksandr Marenich are injured so coach Igor Kolyvanov has selected Alan Gatagov and Pavel Yakovlev. Russia, who have won six successive matches after a surprise defeat by the Faroe Islands, have just two forwards in their squad and will be looking to Vladimir Dyadyun and Artem Dzyuba for their goals.
The latter in particular has been in fine form this season, having already struck six times in 14 Premier-Liga games for FC Tom Tomsk and got both goals in the win against Latvia.
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