"We are sad and angry," said forward Ciprian Marica after Romania's 3-1 defeat in their FIFA World Cup play-off first leg against Greece in Athens. "But we can only win together."
Greece ran rings round Victor Piţurcă's side for much of the first leg, but while they ended the game with ten men, Bogdan Stancu's 19th-minute strike has left them with a foothold in the tie – albeit a fairly fragile one – as the sides reconvene in Bucharest. The dream of a first World Cup in 16 years is alive, though it will take a prodigious effort for Romania to make it come true.
Their biggest challenge, however, may come before the game has even kicked off with Piţurcă set to be without a number of major players. Alexandru Bourceanu's booking and Costin Lazăr's red card in Athens mean both defensive midfielders will be absent for the second leg – a situation made all the more complicated by the absence of another regular in that position, Mihai Pintilii, through injury.
Given that Piţurcă favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, there are some yawning gaps to fill, while another question mark hangs over who will play in goal. Ciprian Tătăruşanu missed the first leg with a back complaint leaving the experienced Bogan Lobonţ to take charge, but Manchester City FC's Costel Pantilimon could be called on instead.
Tottenham Hotspur FC's Vlad Chiricheș, meanwhile, has been fitted with a face mask after missing the first leg with a broken nose, and could be deployed in defence – or just in front – but one thing Romania can be certain of in Bucharest is powerful backing. A crowd of 50,000 is expected, and the players seem determined to give them something to cheer.
"We are so sorry because we disappointed our fans [in Athens]," said Lobonţ. "But every one of them can be sure that we will fight until the end for our chance, no matter how small that chance is."
Greece, by contrast, need only avoid disaster to progress, and with Kostas Mitroglou's double in the first leg taking his tally to 22 in 20 games in all competitions since August, they are feeling confident. "We dream of participating in the World Cup finals in Brazil and will give it our all on the pitch," said the Olympiacos FC forward.
Kostas Katsouranis's suspension creates a minor headache for Fernando Santos, who said after the first leg that his job was to make sure his players did not get carried away, and Mitroglou feels there is little danger of that. "We go to Bucharest as if the first leg finished 0-0," the 25-year-old explained. "Our aim is to win again. We expect the Romanians to apply the pressure right from the start, looking for an early goal to throw us off balance with a packed stadium behind them. We respect them, but we're not afraid."