As he prepares to win his 100th cap, Romania defender Răzvan Raţ has been looking back on an career full of highs and lows – though the 33-year-old is not done yet.
Article top media content
Răzvan Raţ will become only the fifth Romanian to earn 100 caps for his country in the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier against Finland tomorrow – and the veteran defender believes there is plenty more to come.
Now 33 and with Greek club PAOK FC, Raţ made his debut back in February 2002 and, 12 years on, is set to join Dorinel Munteanu, Gheorghe Hagi, Gheorghe Popescu and Laszlo Bölöni in Romania's century club. While Munteanu (134 caps) and Hagi (124) might be out of reach, Popescu's final tally of 115 caps and Bölöni's total of 104 are well within range for the left-back.
"I'm not a record chaser, although that doesn't mean I'll regret it if I climbs the caps ranking," said Raţ, who has captained Romania 13 times. "Breaking records isn't the purpose of my life or my career. I love football and will play as long as I feel OK from physical point of view and as long as I'm playing at a competitive level."
Raţ's Romania story started at the Stade de France on 13 February 2002, when 77,144 spectators saw a France team including Zinédine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Marcel Desailly, Patrick Vieira and Lilian Thuram win 2-1 in a friendly. The visitors' side included established names such as Popescu, Munteanu, Cosmin Contra, Adrian Ilie, Ioan Ganea and Viorel Moldovan as well as rising stars like Cristian Chivu and Adrian Mutu – plus a 20-year-old Răzvan Raţ.
"It wasn't my best match and logically I was replaced at half-time," he remembered. "Somehow I lost myself on the pitch against huge players, who were at that time both European and world champions. Things like that happen in football and in life and I have an excuse, because it was my first call-up and I didn't expect to play at all."
The ensuing 12 years have brought highs and lows. "Obviously the highlight of my career was reaching EURO 2008, although unfortunately we didn't qualify for the knockout stages. [The biggest disappointment] is not playing in the FIFA World Cup despite having played three qualifying campaigns."
When asked for his international memories, Raț has plenty to pick from. "For sure my debut against France, followed by my first goal, in 2004. We beat Germany in a friendly 5-1, and I scored past a goalkeeper as good as Oliver Kahn. Thirdly the 1-0 home win against the Netherlands which helped us qualify for EURO 2008, and then another home victory, 3-0 against Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2011 when I gave all three assists.
"There are also unpleasant memories: the 2-2 draw in Copenhagen against Denmark in 2003, when we conceded five minutes into added time and missed out on EURO 2004, and a 5-0 loss to Serbia in 2009."
Having looked back, what now lies ahead for the experienced defender? "I don't know. I play football because I love it but there'll come a time when I'll have to say 'Stop', when I'm not capable capable physically and when I'm not competitive. For the moment that's not the case and it's hard to predict the future."