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Culio keen to relive the Roma dream

Juan Culio (centre) enjoys the moment in the Stadio Olimpico two years ago
Juan Culio (centre) enjoys the moment in the Stadio Olimpico two years ago ©Getty Images

Juan Culio describes it as a "dream" but CFR 1907 Cluj's 2-1 win at AS Roma on their UEFA Champions League debut two years ago was most certainly real and on Tuesday they return to the scene of that triumph.

It is fair to say that despite being Romanian titleholders, CFR were little known in Europe before their stunning Stadio Olimpico success, when they recovered from an early Christian Panucci goal as Culio struck in either half. The surprise of both sets of players was obvious: while the CFR squad happily lingered and mingled with journalists, enjoying an unexpected moment in the spotlight, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti kept his team in the dressing room for more than an hour. Then they trooped out, heads bowed, not even meeting the glances of the media.

It was a memorable night for Culio, who was working on a building site in Argentina aged 19 when a scout from third division CSD Flandria saw him playing – the club gave him a debut the next day. He repeated his Matchday 1 heroics of 2008 a fortnight ago by inspiring CFR to a 2-1 Group E victory over FC Basel 1893, their first home win in Europe's elite competition. "I'm happy I have the opportunity to hear the Champions League anthem again, especially here in Cluj," said Culio before turning attentions to Roma.

"Fate has enabled me to play at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome again," the 27-year-old midfielder said. "What happened two years ago was a dream and I'm so happy that what I and the team did in that match is still remembered by many. I'm sure we are a stronger and much more experienced team than in 2008 and that we will be able to perform at least as well."

Roma went on to top the group in 2008/09 while CFR finished bottom, losing four times after drawing their second game at home to Chelsea FC. However, having been defeated by FC Bayern München two weeks ago, the Giallorossi cannot afford to go down to Culio and Co again. Roma coach Claudio Ranieri is certainly wary. "Teams who haven't played in the Champions League much have this willingness, this determination and motivation," he said. "While you may have more technical qualities or play in a tougher league, the gap is getting smaller and smaller."

CFR captain Cadú, also a veteran of the 2008 victory, echoed that view. "I've had the opportunity to play for CFR Cluj in three European group stages – two in the Champions League and one in the Europa League, and our ambitions and targets are getting higher and higher. We are stronger and better than two years ago and now we have the chance to prove that what we achieved in 2008 was no fluke."