Andreea Paraluta: Romania's national team is like a second family

19 Oct 2021
  • Romania enjoying unbeaten start to Australia & New Zealand 2023 qualifying

  • Many in current squad have been together for years

  • Their goalkeeper hoping they can finally qualify for a major tournament

With her mother passionate about handball and her uncle a football devotee, you could say Andreea Paraluta was always destined to have a career in sports.

From a very early age, she had a fondness for both sports but, thanks to her sister’s intervention, eventually followed in her uncle’s footsteps. "I loved playing football and handball with the boys in the schoolyard, but then my older sister found me my first team in Romania," she tells FIFA.com.

"I remember the day she told me to choose football, and me asking her if that was what she was really saying. But she insisted and in end I loved it, even if I showed up in trainers and had to be accompanied by the coach to buy boots," says the 26-year-old goalkeeper, who is in her fifth season in Spain, where she spent two years at Atletico Madrid before moving to current club Levante.

Fresh hope

Though all smiles today, the player has endured a difficult couple of years, first with a complicated elbow injury and then with the pandemic. "I picked up the injury while on national team duty in March 2020, right at the start of the pandemic. I was in a bad way with it but just had to wait for things to improve (in the hospitals). Eventually in May 2020 I had an operation on it, which took three months to recover from. I experienced discomfort and was afraid I’d injure it again, so it was a year of ups and downs without ever getting back to my best form," she explains.

However, things began to change for the better during the 2021/22 season "Right now I‘m very well and happy. I’ve fully recovered and feel no discomfort, which has allowed me to recapture the form that I was lacking," says the custodian, who has yet to concede in the five games she has played so far this season.

Of those five, two stand out: the home wins over Lithuania and Croatia in the qualifying phase for the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ - results that leave Romania joint top of Group G alongside Italy and Switzerland.

"I was anticipating those wins and hungry for victory. We’d already faced both teams during the Women’s EURO [qualifiers] and so knew how to prepare for the games. We’re in a difficult group so starting with six points has given us extra motivation and a confidence boost for our next match against Switzerland, one of the favourites for the top spots."

Switzerland are also old acquaintances after denying Romania a play-off berth during qualifying for next year’s EURO in England. Despite that, Andreea believes things can be different this time around. "I was out injured when we faced them in 2019, and then for the return fixture we were missing a lot of players and not ourselves. Now, though, we’re all fit again and so will go into the game with a lot more confidence," she says.

Prepared to fight

Regardless of what happens against the Swiss, Romania’s women will continue to dream of what would be a maiden appearance at a continental championship or World Cup. As the player puts it: "We have options. We’re going to fight to win our games and be in with a chance of qualifying right until the end. Italy, who are our other big rival in the group, have always had a hard time beating us. They respect us and see us as difficult opponents to overcome."

Romania have qualities that could make the difference during this qualifying tournament, not least the fact that the group have been together now for quite some time and are used to playing a certain way. "We’ve been together for many years. In Romania we don’t have as many players who can represent the national team as, say, France or Spain, so it’s not easy to make wholesale changes to the squad. As a result, we nearly always line up with the same players, which is a plus. We know each other, we know our movements, what each one does..." she adds.

The national team is a family of sorts, which for Andreea gives it special meaning. Since moving to Spain in 2016 at just 21, call-ups have been an opportunity to come home. "I can't describe the emotion. I love the national team and I come here to be with my second family. When I first moved abroad, coming back was a breath of fresh air, a sanctuary. The national team means a great deal to me and wearing the shirt makes me proud."

Romania women's team after a match

Support of the federation

The team can count on the wholehearted support of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), who are equally determined to see a national women’s team at a major tournament. "You can see their commitment with the programmes they’re creating. For example, there are more and more divisions in the women's league," says the player before highlighting an important detail: "The FRF have brought in a rule saying that all men's teams must have at least one women's team in underage categories. And in a few years’ time, it will be mandatory for them to also have a women’s senior team."

Reflecting on the difference that requirement will make, Andreea says: "It’ll help us to develop women's football. There are many girls who want to play football but don’t know where to go. Schoolgirls come to our games and we always make time for photos and to talk to them, which they are thrilled with. It has surprised me because a few years ago that didn’t happen. I'm glad to have these young fans who see us as role models and examples," she adds when asked about the role of the national women's team.

Speaking of ardent fans, the player need look no further than her mother, sisters and uncle, who never tire of talking about football. "I always let them know when I have a game, and now my mother knows more about football than handball," she says with a laugh.

Andrea would love a time to come when she not only has the eyes of her family on her when she plays, but that of Romania fans everywhere. For that to happen, though, the team will need to realise its collective goal of reaching a major tournament. “We’ve been battling for so many years, so to achieve that would be a dream come true and historic. We’re going to fight and go all out to try to make it happen," she concludes.

Andreea Părăluță, Romania women's team goalkeeper during a match