The Romania job is one that has proved impossible to refuse for Victor Piturca. The 57-year-old has taken up the post on three separate occasions dating back to 1998, and each spell has included its share of frustrations and disappointments.
Yet Romania will head into next week’s European Zone FIFA World Cup™ play-off against Greece with Piturca once again at the helm, and with unfinished business to address. After all, while his spells in charge of Romania now number three, the former international striker’s tally of World Cup outings stands at zero. Now, with just two matches – and a positive outcome against the Greeks – standing between him and a maiden appearance, that is a statistic he is aiming to put right.
As he told FIFA.com: “It’s extremely important that we qualify - for me as well as for the team - because I have managed to take the team through to three EURO finals but never to the World Cup. But it is even more important for the players, for whom playing in a World Cup would be an incredible experience and achievement.
“If we manage to qualify, it will be extraordinary for Romanian football, and for myself. Every time I have become coach of the national team, I have had to deal with a change of generations. I’ve had to take over the team and build it up. But this time, fortunately, I have managed to achieve that.”
Piturca has every right to be proud of his achievements. In a section dominated by the Netherlands, finalists at South Africa 2010, Romania managed to clinch second place in the face of stiff opposition from the likes of Hungary, Turkey and Estonia. And though this current generation might lack the dazzling individual talent that characterised the great sides of the 1980s and ‘90s, Piturca believes that they have found a different way to succeed.
"We don’t have players of high quality, but they are very driven, skilful and, most of all, they have come together to form a strong group,” he explained. “It is a group I hope will grow exponentially to make its mark on both European and world football.”
Before realising such ambitions, Romania must first negotiate the not inconsiderable barrier posed by Greece. However, while their play-off opponents have succeeded in qualifying for all three of the most recent major tournaments they possibly could have, Piturca admitted to feeling that Fernado Santos’s side were not the toughest adversaries his team could have drawn.
Asked if he was happy with the pairing, he replied: “Yes, because Greece are an opponent whose level we can reach. It is good that we weren’t drawn against Portugal, Croatia - very strong teams with highly valuable players.
"That said, I think that Greece are also a strong team, one that has not lost many matches of late, winning the vast majority. They gathered 25 points from their group and have some very experienced players. It will be a very difficult tie for us.
“We have already experienced playing against them – in a friendly, which we won convincingly, 3-1 - but I’m sure these two play-off matches will be very different. I would say that Greece will start as favourites to qualify, but we have a young team that is showing promise, and I hope that we can play two good games and make it through.”
Piturca has, though, cautioned against expectations that Romania might be on the verge of a return to the glory days of the recent past. Indeed, while memories of the Gheorghe Hagi-inspired run to the quarter-finals of USA 1994 remain vivid, the current coach believes that dreams of a repeat are destined to remain unfulfilled.
“It will be extremely difficult [to enjoy a similar World Cup],” he said. “Back then we had an exceptional generation of highly talented players, whereas now we have players who are aspiring for greatness. Above all else, I hope to qualify for the World Cup. If we make it to Brazil, it will already have been a big achievement for Romanian football.”