Răzvan Raţ talks to UEFA.com about UEFA EURO 2016, going full circle in his international career and why Romania's style is comparable to Diego Simeone's Atlético Madrid.
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This is a year that will live long in the memory of Răzvan Raţ, who led Romania to UEFA EURO 2016 to end an eight-year absence from major tournaments. Named in UEFA.com's European Qualifiers all-star XI to boot, the 34-year-old spoke to UEFA.com about his country's hopes in France.
UEFA.com: How do you feel about being drawn in Group A alongside France, Switzerland and Albania?
Răzvan Raţ: It's a really even group. France will be the favourites; they're at home and have a top team. The first game will be very big for us. They're going to have all the pressure on them. In theory France are better than us, but we'll have to see on the pitch. Anything can happen; we want to get out of the group and take it from there.
UEFA.com: In 2002 you made your Romania debut against France at the Stade de France. Curiously 14 years later you're going to face them again, in the opening game of EURO 2016, at the same venue. What do you remember from your international bow?
Raţ: I remember the France side and that at the break I was taken off as I wasn't having a good game. I don't think I was scared but I had in the back of my mind that I was playing against the world and European champions. There was [Zinédine] Zidane, [Marcel] Desailly, [Lillian] Thuram … what a side.
UEFA.com: What's Romania's style of play? After all, you only conceded twice during the qualifying …
Raţ: I think it's a style that relies on being precise in defence. We're tactically astute at the back. The idea is to not concede and from there create our own chances and score. The most important thing is the defence, to work at the back together and then attack together. You could compare it to the [Atlético] side of [Diego] Simeone. The most important thing in football is not to concede. If they don't score, you'll always have your chances.
UEFA.com: For those not too familiar with Romania, who are the players to look out for at France 2016?
Raţ: I don't think we have any big stars like France, Germany and Spain. We don't have players of that level, but I think we've got a good group, which is the most important thing. This gives you much more than any star names. We're a united group and well organised. If anyone steps up and surprises, all the better for us, but it's better the whole group surprises.
UEFA.com: What is your role with Romania?
Raţ: My job is to be a workhorse. I keep my level every year because I work hard. Maybe that's my biggest quality. To remain at the same level for a long time you need to be a good professional, a good team-mate in the dressing room, continue improving and learning each year. You need to think quicker each year because you always have less time and space in football.
UEFA.com: What does it mean to Romania and Romanian football to get back to a major tournament?
Raţ: It's really important given it's been eight years since we were there. There are a lot of Romanian players with talent and quality. Romanian sides don't stand out in Europe and so it's very important that Romania get back into a tournament like this. A lot of people will see us and our quality.
UEFA.com: Could EURO 2016 be your last action for the national side?
Raţ: I'm going to continue for as long as I can compete. If my level drops, I will stop, but for as long as I can compete I will carry on playing for my country. I don't look at my age, rather how I'm playing. If I'm still at the same level then age doesn't matter.