Having once again fallen short of past achievements last term, FC Steaua Bucureşti will be targeting success in tonight's UEFA Europa League second qualifying round first leg against Újpest FC.
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Having once again fallen short of past achivements last season, Romanian giants FC Steaua Bucureşti will be at great pains to leave a better impression this term – starting with tonight's UEFA Europa League second qualifying round first-leg meeting with Újpest FC.
The capital outfit could only finish sixth in Liga 1, their lowest showing in 27 years, and they had to wait until the final round of matches to secure a place in European competition. For the club with a record 23 Romanian titles, not to mention the European Champions Clubs' Cup trophy they won in 1985/86, that signalled the need for significant changes and a fresh attitude for the coming campaign, with qualification for the UEFA Europa League group stage an immediate priority.
Cristiano Bergodi has been appointed head coach and he joins the club after successful spells with fellow Romanian sides FC Naţional Bucureşti, CFR 1907 Cluj and FC Politehnica Iaşi, though he experienced a less fulfilling stint with FC Rapid Bucureşti in 2007. Along with his assistant Renzo Rossi, the 44-year-old intends to instil a new approach and attitude towards the playing staff, as well as a fresh tactical philosophy.
Financial constraints have hindered his efforts, however, with player salaries having to be lowered and several players moving on. Colombian striker Dayro Moreno and Bolivian forward Ricardo Pedriel were both fined after refusing to join back up with the squad after their holidays and the latter has been loaned to Turkish side Giresunspor, while Portuguese midfielder Tiago Gomes is looking for a new team after turning down the chance to extend his own loan agreement. Meanwhile, defender George Ogăraru has returned to AFC Ajax after his loan spell ended, Portuguese marksman António Semedo is hoping to leave and injured duo Ifeanyi Emeghara and Ovidiu Petre will be sidelined until November at the earliest.
Steaua have nonetheless strengthened their squad with the addition of forward Romeo Surdu, back after a loan at FC Braşov, and the signing of goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu. Recent acquisitions Rafal Grzelak, a Polish midfielder, and Kroum Bibishkov, a Bulgarian forward, will miss the game against Újpest as they lack fitness, on the other hand. "I would harm Grzelak and Bibishkov if I used them against Újpest," said Bergodi. "For these matches I need players who are 100 per cent fit."
The Italian is nonetheless optimistic despite his side's final warm-up friendly, against Turkish club Gençlerbirliği SK on Saturday, ending in a disappointing 0-0 draw. "We didn't play well, but I'm not worried because the team has the necessary potential and can grow," he said. "We've had so many training sessions and friendly matches and that's why my players were not in great physical shape." Victory this evening would also go some way to raising morale among supporters and Bergodi urged his charges to give them something to cheer about. "We'll have to win back our fans," he explained. "They are extremely important."