When it comes to memorable dates, 3 July 1994 holds a special place in Romanian hearts. It was a day that began with hope and ended with realisation as thousands poured onto the streets celebrating their nation's sensational progress to the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals at Argentina's expense. Few in the country old enough will forget where they were, and few would have predicted it would take so long to approach those heights again. They are still waiting.
Romania briefly illuminated the 1998 World Cup but were extinguished at the first knockout stage and, with their golden generation gone, those times have at times felt far removed, even if the Tricolorii have never been completely banished to the wilderness. Last month's back-to-back victories against Estonia and Andorra at the start of 2014 World Cup qualifying have brought the good times a little closer, and there is a sense that Victor Piţurcă is the man to lead them into the light.
Piţurcă sealed qualification for UEFA EURO 2000 and UEFA EURO 2008 in his previous two spells at the helm (their only two final tournaments since 1998) and Friday's trip to Turkey should provide a good test of their aspirations of a trip to Brazil in two summers' time. Their hosts have cause for caution. Piţurcă was parachuted back into the hot seat in summer 2011 and, since last August, Romania have lost just twice in 14 games – narrow friendly losses away to Belgium and Slovenia.
The 56-year-old's contract runs until the end of UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying, but he stresses that he has more immediate targets. "Regardless of what my contract stipulates, please do not think I am not aiming to be in Brazil in two years' time – on the contrary," he said. "I know where we are, but I know that in such a group, where the Netherlands are such clear favourites, we can and will fight for at least second."
The battle starts in earnest on Friday with the Netherlands looming large four days later, and Piţurcă, a member of FC Steaua Bucureşti's 1986 European Champion Clubs' Cup-winning team, is inspiring confidence. His squad has a good balance of youthful promise led by Gabriel Torje and established experience, with Adrian Mutu back in favour after international exile. Romania know all about that, but there is a sense that they, too, may soon be back.
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