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'The Cat' eager to devour the cream

Bogdan Lobonţ regards the Netherlands as favourites to win the EURO but is still hopeful Romania can repeat their qualifying win over the Oranje in Berne.

Bogdan Lobonţ's Romania are looking for a win against the Netherlands
Bogdan Lobonţ's Romania are looking for a win against the Netherlands ©Getty Images

Romania goalkeeper Bogdan Lobonţ claims the Netherlands are favourites to win UEFA EURO 2008™ but he is hoping his own country can maintain their recent good record against the Oranje by getting the result they require to progress to the quarter-finals.

Dutch favourites
Lobonţ is a huge admirer of Dutch football, having spent six years at AFC Ajax earlier in his career, and the FC Dinamo 1948 Bucureşti custodian has not been surprised to see former team-mates like Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart take the tournament by storm in the first two matches. "They are extraordinarily good players," Lobonţ told euro2008.com. "Everybody has seen Sneijder's qualities in the first few games, but also Van der Vaart and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. They are a strong team and to my mind the Netherlands have been the most powerful side at this tournament and are the favourites to win it. I won the Eredivisie and reached the quarter-finals of the [UEFA] Champions League with Ajax. I learned a lot there, not just about football but also about life. So I have a lot of time for Dutch football but on Tuesday my focus will be on Romania and we will try to repeat the [1-0 home] win we had against them in our qualifying group."

Frustrated in Florence
Lobonţ is also familiar with another of Romania's Group C opponents, Italy, having spent a year with ACF Fiorentina, where he was a team-mate of Adrian Mutu during the first half of the 2006/07 season. However, when France reserve goalkeeper Sébastian Frey returned from injury, Lobonţ found himself relegated to the substitutes' bench and decided to find first-team football elsewhere, hence the return to his native Romania. "I had a great year at Fiorentina," said the 30-year-old. "It's a big club with great players and I felt really at home there. However, it is normal when you are benched to move to a team where you can play regular football and that was especially important with these finals coming up. It was a move I had to make and it's worked out for me."

Piţurcă tribute
Lobonţ, nicknamed 'The Cat' by Fiorentina's sporting director, Pantaleo Corvino, for his agility between the posts, has been one of the star performers for Victor Piţurcă's side in the opening two matches, pulling off a string of impressive saves, especially against the Azzurri in last Friday's 1-1 draw in Zurich. Now the Tricolorii stand on the verge of emulating the achievement of the Romania side who reached the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2000™ and if results go their way, Lobonţ feels it would be a fitting tribute to coach Piţurcă, who missed out on the chance to lead Romania to the finals eight years ago. "We have known Mr Piţi for many years," added Lobonţ, who was a squad member in 2000. "He is close to us and we see him as a friend. Together we are a strong and united group. As for the difference between EURO 2000 and now, well, maybe it's because I am playing this time!"